NASCAR – The Season is Almost Upon Us.

The Champions Walk of Fame outside DIS - Image courtesy of JDTImages.ca

And so it begins.  After our long winter hibernation the sport we love is returning to our living rooms to give us the thrills we have been denied through this long cold winter.  Saturday night at 8PM will be the un-official start to the NASCAR season with the running of the 2011 Budweiser Shootout on the freshly paved surface at Daytona International Speedway.  Not only will we get to see cars running on the hallowed grounds of Daytona, but we will be getting a sneak peak of how things are going to run at the Daytona 500 only 8 days later.  The newly repaved surface has been the talk of the drivers who participated in the 24 hours of Daytona and spectators of the race as well.  With drivers able to go anywhere they wished on the track and still have grip to pass without sliding up into the wall, the ability to run cars 3 and 4 wide through the corners (still not a recommended move in my opinion), and a smooth surface that most drivers dream to get to race on, this is shaping up to be one heck of a spectacle.The last few weeks before the season every year there is a feeling that seems to build amongst NASCAR fans.   An anticipation we can almost taste.  The Toyota Invitational race from Irwindale California just a few weeks back actually gave me goose bumps when all the engines were started by the Grand Marshall’s (Michael Waltrip) command.  I expect nothing less for the shootout this Saturday night and for the racing in the week to follow.  This is our Superbowl, the biggest week in the NASCAR racing schedule.  Even though only one of the races is an actual points race, the Bud Shootout and the up coming Gatorade Duels, which run one week from today, are the biggest bragging rights races of the season, I would say even bigger than the All-Star race in May.

Watching the media day coverage gave me even more in sight as driver after driver who has run test laps at Daytona talked about the speeds of a 2 or 3 car hook up vs a single car running flat out.  The team advantage will certainly be a big player in the Daytona 500 this year.  Martin Truex stated during his interview,  “It’s going to be good to have teammates to work with this year.  The track is so smooth, it is the complete polar opposite of what we raced on last year.  Obviously the track is a lot faster and everyone is going to be able to run wide open.  Guys will be making moves simultaneously without knowing what other drivers are doing around them and that is where the trouble is going to happen.”

With the amount of sponsor changes this year you are probably going to need a playbook to follow who is who for the first few weeks.  Kevin Harvick changed his primary sponsor from Shell/Penzoil to Budweiser while Kurt Bucsh has swapped numbers out of the Blue Duece in the #22 and picked up Harvicks former sponsor.  Marcos Ambrose will not be in the #47 this season but instead will be wheeling the #9 car around while Kasey Kahne leaves the #9 behind for the #4 for Red Bull racing.  Make sure you know your drivers number  before you get up to cheer. While Tony Stewart did no change numbers this year he did swap sponsors.  He decided to drop Old Spice form his sponsor list and picked up Mobile 1 instead in hopes that they will be able to give him more team support over the season.

Then we have some of the behind the scenes moves with teams like Hendrick Motorsports.  Swapping around crew chiefs from 3 of his 4 teams, team owner Rick Hendrick hopes that placing drivers with new crew chiefs will stir things up and hopefully bring him more wins from his teams other than Jimmie Johnson.  Dale Earnhardt Jr will be working with Steve Letarte this year, Jeff Gordon will be working with Alan Gustuvson and Mark Martin will have Lance McGrew.  Dale Jr looks hopeful that he will have better communication with Letarte and that it will show with on track placement and finishes better than his average of 21st in the 2010 season.

In the Nationwide series this year we will have some new blood to keep our eyes on, and with the points changes there will be a lot more competition between the regulars.  Travis Pastrana will join the ranks of the Nationwide series and along with his presence will come a ton of fans.  Talking to people who are fans of other venues of racing be it Rally Racing or Drift racing or just racing in general there is a level of excitement about Pastrana’s presence that I have not felt in years of watching this sport.  Watching Travis run at the Toyota invitational showed that he has the skill and patience to move up through the field in stock cars.  While he ran mid pack around 18th place for most of the race, when the last 25 laps got under way he moved his car from mid pack to up front and scored a 6th place finish in a field of All Stars from the lower tiers of NASCAR.  After the race however Pastrana did something you rarely see at a NASCAR race.  After all the other drivers had filed out of the track Pastrana was still courting the media and giving interviews and as they finished he pointed up to a group of his supporters and yelled up “I am coming up there to see you guys!”.  10 minutes later after running around the track to get there,  he shook everybody’s hand and thanked them for coming out and supporting him, took pictures and signed autographs until his PR guy found him and dragged him away.  This is the kind of publicity that NASCAR needs to get more butts in the stand in years to come.

Danica Patrick will make her return to the Nationwide series as well running the first 5 races of the year until Indy Racing gets under way and returning to stock cars at the end of open wheel season to complete the Nationwide season.  Look for her to improve on her best finish of 21st place as she gains in experience in the bigger cars of NASCAR.

It looks like we’re in for an excellent week of racing once we get this show on the road and if you can’t tell…… I am busting for it to start =)

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Comments

  1. Fred says

    I'd rather watch sports cars, but Daytona is always fun. I'm a Tony Stewart fan but like Kyle Busch a lot. That boy can drive anything anytime anywhere. Just don't get in his way.

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