DAYTONA BEACH — The race once known as the Firecracker 400 is on the move.
Daytona International Speedway’s NASCAR Cup Series summer race was part of a mass shuffling of the 2020 schedule, announced Tuesday by the sanctioning body.
The Coke Zero Sugar 400, which the Speedway has always hosted on July 4 or the Fourth of July weekend since the Speedway opened in 1959, will be moved to Aug. 29 next year.
Daytona will now open and close the 2020 Cup Series regular season. The Daytona 500 remains as the kickoff event in February.
Moving the Coke Zero Sugar 400 to August means that it is now the last race of the Cup Series’ regular season and could impact the playoffs.
“This is a huge change,” Speedway President Chip Wile said. “Now we will bookend the regular season by finishing here with the 400. Drivers will have an opportunity to have a walk-off home run moment to make the playoffs.”
Fan reaction to the change was mixed.
“Bad move!!!!!,” long-time race fan and area resident Diana Warren Dudley wrote on Facebook. “Just like they screwed up Darlington years ago!!!!”
NASCAR moved Darlington Raceway’s Southern 500 from its traditional Labor Day weekend date to May for about a decade. The Southern 500 was moved back to Labor Day in 2015 and became NASCAR’s celebrated “throwback” event.
David Evertsen also voiced his displeasure, via Twitter, about Daytona moving its summer race date.
“Times change but, just not a fan of this move,” he posted.
Others supported the move, such as Pat O’Malley, who has watched races at Daytona since 1972.
“I think it’s fantastic,” O’Malley said in an email. “This could become a game-changer and a big shot in the arm for TV and the casual NASCAR fan. Millennials might even watch a race. The schedule had become stale.”
Wile said the value of hosting the regular-season finale, which will determine the 16-driver playoff field, trumps the Fourth of July date and its patriotic theme.
“Every week, NASCAR pays tribute to our military men and women,” Wile said. “We spend a lot of extra time with that during the Fourth of July weekend ... and we will continue to do that regardless our date on calendar.”
This year’s 400 will be held on the night of Saturday, July 6.
NASCAR Vice President Steve O’Donnell said NASCAR would not have moved Daytona’s traditional summer race date without a big incentive.
“I love July 4th and the tradition, but it’s not sold out and it’s been a challenge from a weather standpoint,” O’Donnell said in a teleconference. “This will really showcase that track and all that’s gone into it.
“We all thought as an industry the regular-season finale would do just that. That’s why that move was made. It was not just to move the date a week or two off its traditional track date.”
Moving Daytona’s summer race to August could have an impact on the local economy.
When the Speedway moved the Daytona 500 from its traditional President’s Day weekend, there was blowback from race fans, particularly those with timeshare units.
Wile said he doesn’t expect too many complains about moving the 400′s race date.
“We are giving the fans a long runway to make their plans for next year,” Wile said. “I look at it as a positive for our local community because Fourth of July weekend is already very busy.
“Families from all over the world come to Daytona Beach to enjoy the beach and all the amenities we have here. Now we’re providing the local community an additional weekend of economic benefits and impact. This will be an additional (event) weekend for the community.”
Lori Campbell Baker, executive director of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed with Wile.
“We’re so excited, as always, to have two major dates on the schedule,” Baker said. “We’re looking forward to working with partners and our advertising agency to create additional marketing strategies to fill that July timeframe — and the new August race date — by attracting visitors to our destination.”
But, for some fans, the change will be a difficult adjustment.
Eddie Turns, who has been attending Daytona races since he moved here in 1980, longs for the days when the race was held on the morning of July 4, no matter what the day.
“It’s still gonna be hot,” he said in an email. “To be honest, I liked it better back when they ran it in the morning, the old Firecracker 400.”
Elsewhere, the 2020 NASCAR schedule will see a host of changes; including the Fourth of July race moving to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a two-week summer recess after the New Hampshire race on July 19 for the Summer Olympics and the championship finale going to ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona.
Meanwhile, Homestead-Miami Speedway, which has been home to the last race of the season since 2002, will host one race in March. Pocono, which has held races only six weeks apart in past years, will run a doubleheader June 27-28. Martinsville’s spring race will be held under the lights.
This schedule shakeup is an expected prelude to even more changes in 2021.
“We still have a lot to look at in 2021,” O’Donnell said. “We did make some of these moves in anticipation for building for the future.”
News-Journal reporters Ken Willis and Jim Abbott contributed to this story.