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Pregaming for the 2014 Daytona 500

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Finally NASCAR is back. This period between football ending and engines getting fired at Daytona makes for some boring/lonely Sundays. But finally the end is near. This Sunday will be the 56th annual “Great American Race” at Daytona International Speedway. The history that comes with winning this race makes me think most of the drivers on the track Sunday, will be thinking the start of the season begins next weekend at Phoenix, simply because of what goes along with winning the Daytona 500. Just ask Tony Stewart how important it is, since he has won 18 times at this track but has never won the sports biggest race. The winner of this race will go down in history, regardless of how the rest of their career plays out. Winning this race is like winning The Masters, no matter what nobody can take that away.

While I personally am trying not to get too excited, I can’t help myself so this is part one of however many I can come up with. There have been many changes this offseason and a lot of things to get excited for as the 2014 season gets set to kick off. We’ll start with just that, the format changes made in NASCAR for the upcoming season.


The first major format change you will witness is in qualifying. Previously, teams would go on track with the chance to run up to two laps with the fastest lap determining that team’s starting position.

This year they changed that one car on track type of format to something that should be far more fun to watch. At tracks of 1.25 miles or longer will have a three step system. The first segment will put all cars on track at the same time. After 25 minutes the field will be dwindled to the fastest 24 cars. Those 24 will move on to the next segment. After the next 10 minute segment the field will again be cut down to just 12 cars for a final 5 minute segment.

At road courses and tracks shorter than 1.25 miles there will be a two step system. First a 30 minute segment for every team before the field gets cut to just 12 teams for a final 10 minute segment.

In addition to the new qualifying format, teams will be able to make adjustments during the segments as well as during the breaks between segments, with the exception of Daytona and Talladega.

These changes make qualifying so much more exciting for fans looking to go to the track as well as fans looking to watch some good racing on TV. The group qualifying format will make for more exciting racing, more big wrecks, and a bit of a gimmick worth watching. Then the ability to make adjustments during qualifying allow for teams to try different things looking for speed. It will be interesting to see if teams try and run as many laps as possible or if they look to run a few laps with different setups.

The next major change you will come across was the changes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, aka NASCAR’s playoffs. Until this year, the Chase field was determined by the top 10 in points after the first 26 races with the addition of two wildcard spots for the drivers that win the most races. This year any win in the first 26 races will likely guarantee a spot in the Chase. The top 15 teams with the most wins will earn themselves a spot in the Chase, putting an unprecedented premium on winning races. Of course they aren’t just handing these spots out to someone who gets lucky, they need to finish inside the top 30 in points and will have needed to qualify for every race. The 16th spot in the Chase is reserved for the points leader after the first 26 races, if said driver hasn’t actually won a race. If there are fewer than 16 different winners the remaining spots will be filled by the drivers with the most points.

Once we have run 26 races, the 16 team field will be set. They will all be guaranteed a shot at Jimmie Johnson’s throne. However after the third Chase race the championship eligible field will be cut to the top 12. Then after the sixth race the field will be cut once again down to the top 8. After the ninth race the field will be cut one last time to the top 4, leaving four drivers with a shot at winning the Championship at Homestead. At Homestead there are no bonus points, the only thing that matters is who crosses the finish line first.

In the past there would be one or two drivers with a shot at the title at Homestead making for some cautious racing. Last year it was down to Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick (even though he barely had a prayer at winning). This year there will be four guaranteed teams vying for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. This should make for a rather exciting final race, at a track that hasn’t exactly blown us fans away in the past. With the exception of that Tony Stewart vs Carl Edwards show down, I can’t pull a memorable race at Homestead, off the top of my head. For instance, the #48 team has won six championships, all of which ended at Homestead, and Jimmie Johnson has started 13 times at Homestead, yet he has not won a single race at Homestead. That might need to change if he wants to win a seventh title.

My only beef with the system is the meaning of that final race at Homestead. In theory you win the first 35 races of the season and not win the championship. Of course I’m sure that would spawn another format change, but still. The chances of any one of the four remaining championship eligible drivers not deserving a shot at the title is slim, so this year should be really fun, I know I’m excited.


Friday, February 21, 2014

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