Daytona 500: Monday Night Lights Destined to Be Big Success

Scott CampbellFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Chevrolet, waves to fans during driver introductions prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 26, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Danica Patrick in prime time? The Daytona 500 under Monday night lights?

Talk about a dream scenario for NASCAR. And for Fox, of course.

What began as a foreboding rain delay midday Sunday now stands to be among the most fortuitous postponements in sporting history.

A prime-time Monday start offers a fantastic opportunity for NASCAR to reach new audiences. Put it this way: Casual sports fans are much more likely to tune in tonight to check out the action than they would on a Sunday afternoon. A weekend afternoon offers so many potential choices; Monday night offers a comparatively clear slate for most.

Furthermore, the Daytona 500 will have benefited from an extra day of water-cooler banter to get the hype into high gear. Even those not inclined to watch auto racing or even sports in general may well click on the TV simply because of the curiosity factor.

On Sunday, viewers might also have been enticed later in the day by the 84th Academy Awards or the NBA All-Star Game. Start with the Daytona 500, and that’s a very long day in front of the couch. Now the race’s TV competition will include "2 Broke Girls" and "The Bachelor."

Plus, Patrick’s long-awaited NASCAR debut is now set to steal the stage. If she’s in contention late in the race, we could be looking at historic ratings.

Fox has several other storylines it can package for widespread interest, including Tony Stewart’s pursuit of his first Daytona 500 crown, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looking to shake his winning drought and Jimmie Johnson returning with a renewed vigor.

Hardcore fans will be delighted to see this signature race under the lights, and the Monday night airing seems sure to draw in a whole new audience. NASCAR’s season-opening showcase deserves the extra oomph of prime time, and tonight it will get just that.