When Does NASCAR Season Start?
The winter holidays are over, and football season is winding down. Besides, your team didn’t even make the playoffs. March Madness is still months away, so how about some racing? Hey, when does NASCAR season start? Find the answer below, plus all the details you need to gear up for the start of another exciting season of stock car racing.
Although the NASCAR season officially starts with the Daytona 500, the Busch Light Clash is, in fact, the first race of the year, marking the beginning of a new season. Formally known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, The Clash, held at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, is the first of two non-points-paying exhibition races that occur during the NASCAR season. The second one is the All-Star Race, held mid-season in May at Texas Motor Speedway.
Beginning with its inaugural race in 1979, The Clash was held at Daytona International Speedway as the kickoff event for the Daytona Speedweeks festivities leading up to the Daytona 500. However, in 2022, the Busch Light Clash moved to its new and future home at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, an iconic football stadium built in 1921. A quarter-mile dirt track is constructed (and afterward torn down) solely for the race, in a process similar to that for the Bristol Dirt Race.
The Busch Light Clash is run on the first Sunday in February, on the same day as the NFL’s Pro Bowl and one week prior to the Super Bowl. There is no NASCAR race on Super Bowl Sunday. The Daytona 500 takes place the week following the Super Bowl, on the third Sunday in February.
Featuring an exciting format designed for drama, The Clash is a race unlike any other on the NASCAR schedule. Four preliminary heat races determine part of the field, with the top four finishers in each heat advancing to the final race. Then every driver who has not yet advanced competes in one of two additional heat races, called last-chance qualifiers, with the top three finishers in each advancing to the main event. Finally, all of the qualified drivers compete in the 150-lap feature event, hoping to become the next Busch Light Clash champion and take home part of the $2 million purse.
Qualifying, the first formal competition segment, takes place at 5:30 pm PT on Saturday evening, the night before the race. On the day of The Clash, the heat races begin at 12 pm PT, with the last chance of qualifying starting at 1 pm PT. The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum begins at 3 pm PT (6 pm ET), unofficially kicking off the NASCAR season.
The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the season and NASCAR’s “Super Bowl.” Held two weeks following the Busch Clash, on the third Sunday in February, the running of the Daytona 500 is when the NASCAR season officially starts.
The most significant, prestigious, and highest-paying race on the schedule, the Daytona 500 is a massive spectacle, drawing the biggest television audience of any NASCAR race and kicking off the regular season with a bang. The first of two Cup Series races held at the Daytona International Speedway (the second being the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in August), the Daytona 500 is run over 200 laps on the superspeedway’s massive 2.5-mile irregular oval track. This race has been the crown jewel of the NASCAR season since the speedway opened in 1959 and has been scheduled as the season-opener since 1982.
The Daytona 500 has a unique qualifying procedure, taking the form of two 150-mile preliminary events known as the Bluegreen Vacations Duel. The Duel events are held on the Thursday preceding the main race, starting at 7 pm ET. Three days later, on the third Sunday of February, the green flag drops on the Daytona 500 at 2:30 pm ET.
Now that you know exactly when NASCAR season starts don’t forget to circle the start of the postseason on your calendar! The thrilling “Chase for the Championship” format means playoff contenders face an elimination round every three weeks, making the NASCAR playoffs must-watch racing.
After the running of the Coke Zero Sugar 400, the 26th race of the 36-race official season (held on the final Sunday in August), the regular season ends, and the postseason begins. The next race, the Cook Out Southern 500, held at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina, on the first Sunday in September, is when the NASCAR postseason starts. After that, the playoff contenders battle through three exciting elimination rounds, culminating in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway on the first Sunday in November.