By: Melissa S. Wollering
Boogety, Boogety, Boogety. Let’s go racing, boys. No one watches NASCAR. No one follows the Sprint Cup. Why do I clear the first weekend of February for the Budweiser Shootout? Well you’ll have to read my articles the entire season to find out. And trust me; your effort will be worth it.
Next weekend, the Daytona 500 commences. That’s the Super Bowl of football. The World Cup of soccer. The World Series of baseball. And instead of being scheduled at the end of the season, it inaugerates and christens the racing season. Meanwhile, one week prior to the 500, Daytona Beach, FL is the site of time trials for the Big One as well as the host city of the Bud Shootout.
New this season: Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth acquires the sweetest looking bourgeois stock car exterior—sponsored by Crown Royal. He’s purple and gold, Vikings fans.
For rules: everything racers complained about is a now a free-for-all. That means bump-drafting at Daytona and Talledega (two most important races of the season), increased contact on the track, spoilers instead of rear wings and restrictor plates larger than Darrell Waltrip’s annoyance rating.
What rule changes are the guys excited about? Brian Vickers was very willing to write a detailed explanation on his facebook page last month. He likely speaks for the majority as he praises the reintroduction of the spoiler (forcing them to trade in their rear wings) and larger restrictor plate (starting with Daytona and possibly future races if all goes well).
The return of the spoiler necessitates an investment for teams. Some fans wonder why NASCAR couldn’t wait one additional year to give the wing another nine months of development. The expense associated to this change is also an issue for teams obligated to convert their entire fleets from the wing to the spoiler and adjust their racing approach. Think of it this way: you scouted a pitcher for 2-3 years and have as many notes on him. Now they want you to throw those notes away and start over. Gee. Thanks.
If wondering what in Quaker State a restrictor plate is, it’s a plate attached to the carborator that restricts air flow, in-turn restricting RPM’s. Drivers believe it evens the playing field and makes for better competition. In fact, Jeff Gordon believes it could make the largest difference in racing since 1989. THAT is impressive, most importantly for fans looking for more exciting racing overall. Brian Vickers reaction to this and the change in bump-drafting(courtesy his Facebook page):
“Bump drafting is going to be allowed! If you want to ride in the back-fine. If you want to race up front- LET’S GO! All the drivers need to stop complaining and start racing- but if we see a bad call or something is not right-SAY IT! We need to police ourselves out there. If we don’t like something about the way we are being raced-speak up! The goal in all of this is to bring the fire and passion of racing back to all of us- the drivers, the teams and especially the fans!”
One thing that won’t change–yellow lines. Just like a 4-year-old going Crayola-happy, drivers will still need to stay within the yellow lines (above the apron) while passing.
“We need a yellow line rule, in my opinion,” says four-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. “We do not need to be racing below that yellow line and onto the apron down the back straightaway at Daytona or at Talladega. At Talladega you can probably race on the apron through the corners. It might be cool for one race, and [then] we’ll have one big pileup and it will be 40 cars in a wad, and a damn boring race after that.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. feels the same way. “The yellow-line rule is there for a reason. If we took it away, I think we’d definitely be reminded quite quickly why we have that rule, and why it’s there in the first place.”
Mark Martin had an idea that intrigued a number of the drivers. He suggested an “anything goes” policy on the last lap coming off Turn 4 to the start-finish line. Martin still believes, however, that there are just too many other safety issues to consider not having a yellow line rule throughout the course of the race.
If you’re wondering why all these changes, that’s an extremely valid question. The answers to NASCAR rule changes tend to be mysterious because NASCAR doesn’t write news releases justifying their modified rule books. But it’s clear after multiple back-to-back Sprint Cup crowns, Jimmie Johnson’s speedy vehicle is clearly part of the reason.
I actually agree with the drivers and believe these changes are a rare example of a sport that is LISTENING to its fans. There are ways to set the bar in competition, especially in a sport such as stock car racing. There are also ways to change to the entertainment quality; and between the spoiler, the restrictor plate and bump-drafting, I think NASCAR is off to a great green flag start. But as you well know, it’s not where you are during the green flag but where you are in the pack when the checkered flag waves that matters.
Who to Watch in Daytona, Florida…
Tony Stewart. Becoming an owner and driver in 2009 really changed Tony. And whether you love him or hate him you realize it’s only a matter of time before he tells your favorite driver to eat his dust.
Jeff Gordon. He starts the season off strong EVERY season. Don’t underestimate his ability to win Daytona again.
Casey Kahne. He’s young but he’s learned enough not to treat the oval with a rookie mindset. He’s making smart, calculated moves and I believe he’ll be a contender in the points this year in a major way.
The Busch Brothers. You love to HATE them, possibly more than Tony Stewart. One of them just got engaged this week to a chick who probably put Julia Roberts up as her Doppelganger on Facebook last week. Yeah, that’d make you lucky, too.
Joey Lagano. He’s not a Sprint Cup contender but he’s coming off a red-hot 2009 rookie season and he will consistently improve if he can keep his 19-year-0ld brain focused on the road ahead.
Kevin Harvick. Won his second back-to-back Budweiser shootout Saturday night. He consistently races in the top ten and could use that consistency to last all 500 and finish strong.
Predicted Winner: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Ran a fantastic time trial Saturday, will likely set the pace of the race and if he can stay out of trouble in the corners, could take the cake at Daytona for once. Note, this is a huge gamble for me because I think he’s raced terribly in the past two seasons, but that means this guy is due for a decent season in 2010.