The nuclear winter for racing fans is beginning to thaw. NASCAR testing in both Daytona and Las Vegas gave fans a little taste of some cars on the track in January, and the 24 Hours of Daytona let them see their first real racing action of the season last week. Suddenly, the countdown to 2007 doesn’t seem so distant; it’s now only 12 days until the Daytona 500. Then, the longest season in professional sports will begin its arduous trek to the end of November, when this year’s Cup champion will be crowned.
The beautiful thing about the approach towards Daytona is that, right now, everyone is tied for the lead in the Cup standings. Teams have been working all winter to get their cars ready for the new season: crew chiefs have been swapped, new drivers are with new teams, and new teams in general are taking the series by storm, especially Toyota coming into the series for the first time. There is so much optimism, and every team feels like they have what it is going to take to make a run at the title.
That same optimism is permeating the fanbase of NASCAR this time of year. The weeks leading up to Daytona are the best time of the season for them, because everyone is in contention to win no matter who they root for. Every fan of every driver feels like this is going to be their year; they are sure that the team has made the right moves, secured the proper sponsorship, done the necessary R&D, and put in all of the time they need to make their team successful for the upcoming season. Fans are looking at last year’s failures, recognizing their driver’s weaknesses and hypothesizing at how this year is going to be different.
Part of the NASCAR fan’s enthusiasm can be easily understood; the offseason gives them nothing but highlight shows and reruns of seven days on SPEED. Now, the season is about to crank up. Within two weeks, cars will be going in circles again, and fans will have announcers to complain about, commercial breaks at the wrong time, and plenty of water cooler debate over who is cheating and who is getting favorable treatment from NASCAR.
Of course, NASCAR has also given the fans plenty to worry about, not the least of which is the new Chase format. Even though the changes are somewhat minor, people will now spend half the season trying to digest how the new format will impact their driver and what exactly winning races is really going to do for a team. There will also be more than enough debate this coming season over the Top-35 rule. With Toyota entering the series and so many well-funded teams in the series, there are going to be some quality teams going home on race weekends. Don’t be surprised if there is an adjustment to that rule for the 2008 season.
ESPN is also coming back to covering the sport after a long hiatus. There is no doubt that they are firing both barrels with their NASCAR coverage, reaching out to give the sport more extended coverage on their networks than they ever did before. Race fans can be sure to know they are going to have one source for all of the NASCAR news they want to get on television in 2007.
Finally, don’t forget that NASCAR fans can have their own fun playing fantasy games in various places on the Internet. Frontstretch is going to be running their own fantasy game this year, too; be sure and check it out. No matter what game you play, there will be some great competition and you will have plenty of opportunity to brag and boast when you do well, eating crow when your picks don’t do so hot.
Whatever your perspective on the upcoming season, one thing is for sure: the cars are getting ready to run in circles, and every fan of the sport is very happy about that.