WASHINGTON, February 7, 2014 — The countdown for the 2014 Daytona 500 started for most NASCAR fans just as the season ending checkered flag fell at Homestead Speedway on November 17, 2013. We are now in the 15 days to go range (click here for the Daytona 500 Countdown Clock) and a Speed Week before the race. It is always notable that NASCAR provides it prime event at the start of the season.
For NASCAR sports, the slogan “NASCAR – anything else is just a game” is true; it is not like other sports and is a category all it’s own.
This year, there are 5 new car teams, 16 drivers changes, and 13 crew chief changes. Chevrolet is picking up two teams, and there are major changes to the Chase format.
Yes, for the forth time in eleven years, the Chase format has changed. NASCAR says it made the changes to reward winning, make the format easier to understand, and to expand the field in the Chase part of the season.
After the first 26 races of the year, a grid of 16 drivers will be selected. You win a race and you are in the chase. If the grid is not completed by winners or there are more than 16 winners in the first 26 races, points will decide the final grid makeup.
The 10 race Chase will be divided into 4 segments. The first 3 races, 1, 2, and 3, will be the Challenger round and the bottom four drivers by points will be culled. The next 3 races will be the Contender round with four more drivers left behind. Races 7, 8, and 9 are the Eliminator round and will leave four final contenders for race 10 out of the starting grid of 16. The final four in the Chase in race number 10, a single race mind you, will have equal points at the start. This means that in the final race of the season it is a winner takes all event.
This restructuring is supposed to bring the drivers up on the wheel with a premium for winning. How will it affect consistent drivers like Jimmy Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Bush remains to be seen.
It does appear that NASCAR really wants to maintain fan interest throughout the season and avoid slumps or lulls in attendance and viewership.
Qualifying has also been changed from the individual qualifying effort to “Group Qualifying.” At tracks 1.25 miles and greater there are three sessions separated by 10 minutes. They are 25 minutes, 10 minutes, and 5 minutes. In the sessions, all cars compete in the first session, followed by the top 24 in the second, and top fastest 12 in the final session. Similarly the less than 1.25 mile tracks will have 30 and 10 minute sessions consisting of all cars and then the fastest 12. Fastest times determine starting positions, of course.
Dale Earnhart Sr’s Number 3 is being re-activated and coming back into competition. It is being driven by Austin Dillon, grandson of Richard Childress, the owner of the Number 3. As you should know, Number 3 had been retired in mourning since the death of Dale senior at Daytona Speedway in February 2001, and it appears that it is now time to move on.
The rebirth of number 3 has been handled with class and dignity by the team and owner. Look for number 3 to be a sentimental favorite in the same vein as Dale Earnhart Jr has been and continues to be.
This should whet your appetite for more and make you ready for the season to start.
So, start your countdown and get ready for lots of fast left turns (Turn left, Ward!) and mind blowing pit strategy. Attending an event and/or watching with your friends and family enhance the experience.
Coming to you live from my living room!