I can believe the start of the 2014 season is upon us. There are so many story lines that have come out of the off-season. It has been one of the busiest off-seasons I have seen in a few years. Here are some story lines coming into the 2014 season.
The Chase–new changes are here! 16 drivers, a win gets you in the Chase if you are in the top 30 in points, eliminator rounds in the last 10 races and a 4 car shoot out at Miami. Not sure what to think about the changes, I will just have to wait and see
Qualifying–You will have three rounds at 1.25 miles or longer and 2 rounds at tracks less 1.25 miles. Round 1 = 25 minutes to post qualifying time-after which the 24 registering the fastest will advance to 2nd round. Those not advancing to Round 2 will be sorted based on 1st round times in descending order. Round 2 = 10 minutes to qualify, 12 fastest in this round will move onto the final round, those not advancing will earn positions 13-24 based on time. Final round = 5 minutes, fastest times from this session will determine 1-12 positions. There will be a 5-minute break between each round where teams can make adjustments. They will not be allowed to jack the vehicle or raise the hood and once the car enters the garage, it will no longer be permitted to return to the track for additional qualifying attempts. Of course is you are at tracks 1.25 or less, drivers will only have two rounds to get things done. Did you get all that?
Jimmie Johnson–Will he or won’t he get to that magic mountain of 7 championships this season? I haven’t heard much chatter about it, but it is still early in the season. But I am sure somewhere down the line, it will be mentioned.
Stewart Haas Racing–I think this is the team that you need to watch our for in 2014 (of course I am a little biased). SHR went from a three-car team to a four car team. SHR added new drivers Kevin Harvick (who replaced the departing Ryan Newman who is now in over at Richard Childress Racing) and Kurt Busch driving the #41. Danica Patrick will be starting her 2nd year in Cup. But all eyes I think will be on Smoke, aka, Tony Stewart. More about my thoughts on Tony later.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: I am interested to see how Dale Jr. will fare this year. It was announced that his crew chief, Steve Letarte, will be leaving at the end of the season to join NBC when they take over the final part of the NASCAR season next year. I am sure the good folks over at Hendrick Motor Sports have started looking at who will replace Letarte. Letarte has done good things for Junior since becoming his crew chief. I don’t cringe every time Dale is interviewed. He looks more relaxed and upbeat. Steve Letarte will be missed, but I am looking forward to him in the broadcast booth next year.
The #3–It is time. It has been 13 years since the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. Richard Childress has been very respectful about bringing back this iconic and revered number iconic back to the Cup level. Dale Sr.’s legacy to me is more than just the number. That’s what I focus on when I look back at his career. Is Richard Petty’s legacy diminished because someone else drives the #43? I know there are some small faction who would like to not see the #3 back on the track and that is ok. But I am excited to see it back on the track and I think Mr. Dillon will do the #3 proud. Note to those crazy loons who wear the aluminum hats–there is no conspiracy with the #3. Are you kidding me? You know how many people you would have to involve to pull off that kind of thing? You guys need to stop drinking that “special Kool-aid”. If you really want to scream NASCAR is on the take and fixed, how come Junior hasn’t won a championship or for that matter multiple championships? RCR has always had fast cars at the restrictor plate tracks. So take your aluminum hats and black helicopters and go back to figuring out something more important, like why do hot dog packages come in packs of 10 and buns in packs of 8!
Sprint Unlimited–I liked the racing even after the 9 car crash that took out some of the major players in the race. There was side by side racing. Denny clearly had the car to beat it seemed. He won all three segments and stood in victory lane for the first time in the Unlimited since he won the thing back in his rookie year. Of course, the weirdest part of the night was when the pace car caught fire! You heard me, the pace car caught fire! I mean two years it was a jet dryer up in flames! At one point, I was waiting for the mayhem guy from the All State commercials to pop out!
Thank goodness this race occurred AFTER Valentine’s Day. It looked like Danica Patrick was going to make it thorough the big crash, but only to be hit by her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It never saw her. I would have loved to been a fly on the wall in that trailer home to hear the conversation.
I’m telling ya, it had to be the full moon that was hovering over the race track. That would explain so much!
Tony Stewart–It has been a long off-season for us Tony fans. I mean, we haven’t seen our driver in a car since August. I for one am pumped to see Tony back in his #14! He seems very upbeat about getting the 2014 season underway. That was clearly evident on Saturday night. He looked great out there. It was if he had never been gone. But my excitement was short-lived thanks to that 9-car pile up courtesy of Matt Kenseth. Saw this quote on Twitter from Tony, “I’ve waited for 7 months to race, I damn sure wasn’t going to sit there and ride around.”. Now that’s the Tony I love! I am hoping 2014 is the year of #14. I want to see him win the Daytona 500 this year. Of course if he does all those crazy conspiracy loons will come out of the lead line caves screaming CONSPIRACY! But you know what, let them cry all they want. Just like Dale Sr., he has won everything he can at Daytona. He knows how to get around the place. But that just goes to show you how tough winning the Daytona 500 can be. Some of NASCAR’s best drivers, have never one a the 500.
Hope that has caught you up to speed for Daytona. Now here are a few house keeping things I need to take care of. If you are in Raiderland or listening outside the boundaries of Raiderland, check at That Dang Ol’ Show. You can listen to the show on Monday nights from 6:00-8:00 pm on The Red Dirt Rebel (105.3). If the wind is blowing just right and the sun is setting in the west, you might just hear me call in and talk a little racing. Plus, you might learn a thing or two in the process.
And finally….since there are only 5 days until Daytona (February 23, 2014)…I need to put the disclaimer out there for everyone.
Attention to all of my family, friends, co-workers and complete strangers, NASCAR season is upon us. I will NOT be available for family functions, outings, or get-togethers on Sundays. If there is an event on said Sunday, you will have to understand they must be held prior to the start of the race or after the race. If you must schedule things during the raced be aware I may not attend your function or request that I have access to a television set. This also applies to races that are held occasionally on Saturday nights. If you wish to spend time with me, you must understand the topic of conversation will be predominately about the upcoming race, the previous Sunday’s race, Tony Stewart, or anything in general about NASCAR. This is the time of the year all projects are put aside unless they involve a NASCAR related event. Please don’t be offended if I ignore you on Sunday or the occasional Saturday…it’s nothing personal…IT’S NASCAR!