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Phoenix provides the first real test for the “New NASCAR”

By admin | March 1, 2014

 It was good for NASCAR when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took the checkered flag in Daytona.

 By Richard Allen

By most accounts, the Daytona 500 came off as a tremendous success for NASCAR. The sport’s most popular driver won the race. Track and series officials were praised for their efforts to get the race in despite rain doing its part to ruin the day. And, drivers mixed it up throughout much of the event with an exciting finish coming down under the lights in front of a large crowd.

But no matter what you may hear from those who do their best to carry water for the sport’s hierarchy, none of that was due to the changes NASCAR made over the most recent off season.

Since the checkered flag fell on the season ending Sprint Cup race in south Florida last year, NASCAR has almost completely remodeled the sport. There is a new way of determining the series champion. Qualifying is now completely different from what it has been since the inception of the sport. And as is so often the case, there have been changes in various mechanical aspects of the cars such as shocks, springs and spoilers since last year.

But rather than the most notable change(championship system) causing what was one of the better Sprint Cup races in quite some time, it was rather a perfect storm of conditions that fell into place on a given afternoon/evening.

The first 38 laps of the 2014 Daytona 500 were fairly bland as drivers knew rain was likely to come and the race would not be official until the lap counter passed the 100 mark. As a result, little action took place in the laps that were run during the daylight hours.

However, business picked up considerably once the track was dried and racing resumed later that evening. But it wasn’t because the drivers were hungry to claim a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff that there was two and three wide action from the time the green flag waved to restart the action.

The drivers were racing for the biggest prize in stock car racing for Pete’s sake. And more, darkness combined with the cooler air to give the track more grip. That increased grip gave drivers the assurance they could race side-by-side all the way around the 2.5 mile facility without sliding up and into each other.

Further, the was no guarantee that the race would run its full distance as rain loomed on the radar just miles from the track. That lack of certainty caused drivers to jockey for position throughout the final 400 miles as no one knew when a stray shower might bring a premature end to ’The Great American Race’.

None of the factors that contributed to the Daytona 500 being a great race had anything to do with the new championship system, thank goodness. Fortunately, drivers showed that they wanted to win the sport’s biggest event and they were willing to take risks to accomplish that goal.

This weekend at the Phoenix International Raceway is where the real NASCAR season will begin. This may prove to be one of the greatest races in NASCAR history or it may not. Again, I argue that either way will have little to do with the new championship system.

As drivers such as Kyle Busch pointed out after the new system was announced, they have always wanted to win. It’s the cars that haven’t allowed for more passing and side-by-side racing. Perhaps mechanical changes might make for better racing more so than the Chase format change.

But ultimately, the key point is that this weekend in Phoenix begins the “real” season for the “New NASCAR”. The Daytona 500 was not a real test. The magnitude of that race and the use of restrictor plates will always serve to create a competitive environment. If this new system is to truly make a difference in the so-called regular season, it will begin here. But I’m not sure such will be the case unless the cars have been improved.

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7 Responses to “Phoenix provides the first real test for the “New NASCAR””

  1. Benjamin P. Glaser Says:
    March 1st, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    I really like the new qualifying format.

  2. Russ Says:
    March 1st, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    Certainly there were a lot of positives from Daytona. But the thing that nobody mentions were ratings and viewers. Rain, Olympics, and network are given as extenuating circumstances. But what is the reality?
    Beginning this weekend we shall see whether the sport has turned a corner or is it once again whistling past the graveyard.

  3. Arnold Decker Says:
    March 2nd, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Everyone should put cup drivers in their Nationwide cars
    like the Gibbs team. NASCAR does not care.

  4. midasmicah Says:
    March 2nd, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Phoenix will give us some insight as to how the racing will be this year. On another note, I will not watch another nationwide race as long as cup drivers’ are entered. It’s turned into a frigging joke.

  5. Offkilter Says:
    March 2nd, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Aww Rich. For a guy that is always blasting drivers for being vanilla and stirring up the amens from your choir on that subject, you missed a beautiful opportunity to write about Dale Jr’s inspiring race and his raw elation after the win. If you were striving to be the island unto himself after the sport’s biggest star wins the sport’s biggest race, mission accomplished, bro.

  6. Anne Says:
    March 3rd, 2014 at 12:53 am

    Inspiring how? Junior accomplished no more or less than the famous and not so famous before him in regards to the Daytona 500. Any other writings or leanings are the sentimental bologna of the biased media and insanely sentimental fans who are diehard Earnhardt fans. It in reality had nothing to do with the actual race itself, the spin on his winning and not others who have been in the same boat in a word is…digusting. And my opinion has no bearing on Junior as a person or driver. Just my observation of the lemmings in regards to anything with a bloodline of Dale Sr.

  7. Offkilter Says:
    March 3rd, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Rich, forgive me for the last sentence in my first post.
    Anne. I was just struck by the way Junior celebrated. Quite electric. Alot of man-love in that victory lane. Some say the plate tracks isn’t real racing. I say it has a green and a checker a driver and a trophy, by gosh it must be a race. I laughed at you lemming line! If that’s true about the Earnhardt bloodline, me and a few million other people forgot to buy Kerry and Jefferey t-shirts. Maybe Junior is appealing by his owm merit. Simple, true, and damn good at driving a racecar.