Well my dearest readers, the offseason is officially here, and although there is no racing left to analyze, there are still quite a few items left to discuss before the lights completely go out on the year. As easy as it is to use this time to reflect on 2013, the reality is that the drivers and teams are already shifting their focus towards the 2014 season. 2014 will be a bit of a limbo year for the sport, and it is expected that series officials will use 2014 as something of a testing ground for big changes that are rumored to come in 2015. With that come many questions that beg to be answered, and I am here, one last time, to answer them all the best I can. Thank you once again for your continued readership, and let me just be the first to say that I can’t wait for the 2014 racing season!
1. What will happen with the rumored aero / rules changes?
It is no secret that the Gen-6 car is a work in progress. Overall, the car was an improvement over the Gen-5 car in terms of on track raciness, but that in no way means that the car was perfect. Far from it. The Gen-6 car was at its best on short tracks and intermediate tracks with aged surfaces. The car was a massive improvement over the Gen-5 on both of those track styles, thus indicating that the car has a viable platform to work with going forward.
NASCAR’s big task over the off-season is to figure out how to make the car race well on smooth or newly repaved intermediate tracks. Such facilities have been the bane of the Gen-6’s existence. NASCAR plans to remedy this via a series of major changes to the cars. NASCAR is testing roof wickers, taller rear spoilers, and strategically placed holes in the rear end in an effort to create less aero disturbance (which is responsible for the dreaded “aero push.”)
The biggest change however is one that has yet to be confirmed. The hot rumor circulating around the garage area is that NASCAR is going to cut the horsepower of the cars down to 800 HP. This is undoubtedly the smartest and most effective change that could possibly be made, as the slower speeds will naturally tighten the field, increase the draft effect, decrease the aero push effect, and work in concert with the aero changes to make for a better overall product.
NASCAR has a test at Charlotte planned for December 9th to test these changes out, so keep your ears peeled for news on that front, as these changes could have a huge effect on what the racing looks like going forward. My prediction? NASCAR will go with at least half of their proposed aero changes in addition to the horsepower cut.
2. Will Jimmie Johnson’s sixth championship resonate in the mainstream sports world?
Damn right it will, and I’d be tempted to say that it already has. I fully understand that portions of the NASCAR world are unable and unwilling to accept the fact that Johnson is making history right now, but the reality is that Johnson is on a crash course for greatness right now, and the greater sports world cares. How much do they care? Enough to make Johnson the first ever athlete to host SportsCenter at least.
Double-J-mania has been downright impossible to avoid this week, and it is for good reason. People all around the sports world are standing up and taking notice to what Johnson is doing right now, and given that Johnson will be looking for a record-tying seventh title in 2014, I have a feeling that the excitement in the general sports community surrounding Johnson’s accomplishments will not die down.
Many readers and fans will undoubtedly keep their heads in the sand and try to blame everything under the sun except JJ for JJ’s success, but for the first time in Johnson’s run of success, it finally feels like people are starting to appreciate what the man has done. With that in mind, I think it is fair that his sixth championship will in fact resonate with fans, and even be good for the sport.
3. Could Silly Season bring more surprises?
Silly season doesn’t officially end until the green flag for the Daytona 500 finally waves, so don’t be fooled into thinking that all of the “early” silly season moves prevent more moves from being made. Many rides are still up in the air in the Sprint Cup Series (albeit lesser rides), meaning that more shuffling could be coming down the pipe. Tommy Baldwin Racing shocked many last weekend by announcing that they had signed Michael Annett and sponsor Pilot / Flying J to a deal that will see Annett run for Rookie of the Year, piloting cars prepared by Richard Childress Racing.
With ride buyers continuing to creep their way up the sport’s pecking order, it wouldn’t be shocking to see another lesser team sell their souls to a sponsor / driver combo a la Annett / TBR. If nothing else, it is solid business practice for such teams, as they get a fresh young driver in place of a recycled veteran along with cash flow. Everyone wins.
The real question marks left at this point surround what will happen with teams like Circle Sport Racing, BK Racing, FAS Lane Racing, and other small-time teams. Big name drivers like Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, and Dave Blaney are still on the market and could provide a boost for a team in dire need of a veteran pilot. On the flipside, up and coming small-time operations like Phoenix Racing (a.k.a. Turner-Scott Motorsports: Cup Edition) and Swan Racing are expected to “go young” with their driver recruiting, meaning perennial minor-leaguers like Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman, and Cole Whitt could finally be getting an “official” shot at the Cup Series.
All told, many puzzle pieces have yet to fall into place for 2014, so be on the lookout for more news. Some of it may surprise you (hint hint).
4. Will NASCAR continue to tinker with the superspeedway aero package?
The Daytona 500 and its accompanying Speedweeks festivities are the biggest, most glamorous, most prestigious, and most important events on the NASCAR calendar. So important is Speedweeks, that NASCAR devotes nearly half-a-month in January to tweaking the rules package for the events every year to make sure the cars are racy enough to put on a good show. Here’s the rub though, NASCAR has failed miserably to accomplish this these past two years.
In fairness to the sanctioning body, it’s not entirely their fault. The plague known as tandem racing nearly ruined restrictor plate racing in 2011, and the lackluster plate races in 2012 and 2013 were largely a result of NASCAR doing it’s best to find a way to bring “pack racing” back in place of “tandem racing.” The result was a pack racing formula that ranges from being anywhere from decently exciting to mediocre. That was fine for years one and two of the tandem-elimination project, but “decently exciting to mediocre” is not going to cut it in year three.
By the end of 2013, the teams were able to make the Gen-6 cars fairly racy in plate-configuration as evidenced by a fantastic show (save for the last 10 laps) in the fall race at Talladega. NASCAR’s job now is to actually take the time to build off of that package and find a way to make the cars just a tad bit racier, draftier, and harder to drive than they were in 2013. My guess is that they will at least try something to make the cars suck up better, which is the most evident problem at the moment. If they can make that leap, Speedweeks 2014 could be a sight to behold.
Connect with Matt!
Contact Matt Stallknecht
©2000 - 2008 Matt Stallknecht and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!