DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Daytona 500 is on the move.
NASCAR and track officials announced Sunday that the Great American Race will be a week later in 2012, allowing the sport to shorten its season and avoid any potential conflicts with the NFL's Super Bowl.
NASCAR's 2012 season opener will be Sunday, Feb. 26.
The new date allows NASCAR to eliminate a traditional off week following the first three races of the season. It also gets NASCAR ahead of any potential changes to the NFL schedule, including an 18-game schedule or NFL labor strife that might force the Super Bowl in Indianapolis to be delayed a week.
"We're not going to deny the fact that part of this also is in dealing with the NFL," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's vice president of racing operations. "Who knows where they'll go with an 18-game schedule. But we want to get ahead of that.
"Either way, we think it's the right thing to do for our season to kick off. The Super Bowl's certainly a big event, but so's the Daytona 500. To give fans an opportunity to go to both of those we think is the right move, it's a win-win for everybody."
The Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 5. But Colts owner Jim Irsay and host committee officials have said the NFL asked city officials to keep blocks of hotel rooms and city venues open for that weekend and the next.
The current collective bargaining agreement runs out at the end of the day March 3. The players believe that team owners are preparing to lock them out as soon as the following day, which could threaten the 2011 season. The NFL has not lost games to a work stoppage since 1987.
Nonetheless, NASCAR officials are anticipating changes to the NFL's schedule. Whether it's an 18-game schedule and/or an extra bye week thrown in, they certainly don't want Speedweeks trying to compete with America's biggest sporting event, the Super Bowl.
They even declined to say that the date for the next Daytona 500 — the fourth Sunday in February — would remain the same in future years.
They also stopped short of announcing other races during 2012 Speedweeks, including the exhibition Budweiser Shootout. That could mean NASCAR officials are considering condensing Speedweeks from a two-weekend event spanning 11 days to a weeklong extravaganza.
"I'm not prepared to ask for that," Daytona International Speedway president Joey Chitwood III said. "I like having the Shootout, I like having the ARCA event and I like having that weekend. It's a good weekend for our fans."
NASCAR officials don't feel the same about the off weekend early in the season. Drivers and owners have complained that the 36-race season is too long already, insisting there's little need for a bye week in March.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that hurts our momentum throughout the season," O'Donnell said. "So by being able to move the date back a week, we close up that off week, NASCAR's able to keep the momentum throughout the season, which we think is great."