What a week it’s been during the first installment of 2015, Budweiser Speedweeks at The World Center of Racing. Great weather and good racing during the highly anticipated Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night, capped-off by a less-than perfect first attempt at Sprint Cup group qualifying, made for an eventful weekend. Not holding back were the likes of Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, who called NASCAR’s attempt at a Daytona group qualifying “a complete embarrassment for our series” after the qualifying session ended on Sunday afternoon. There was an overwhelming sense throughout the garage area by drivers that NASCAR shouldn’t have forced teams to enter into what was essentially a no-win proposition for everyone involved… well, unless you’re Jeff Gordon that is. The 23 year veteran, who is entering his final full-time Sprint Cup season, will appropriately sit on the pole for the 58th running of The Great American Race on Sunday. You can’t make this stuff up, and isn’t that why we love this sport so much?
This weekend we were able to answer some outstanding questions from the offseason, the first being how the new rules package (minus the new tapered spacer, which will debut next week at Atlanta) and the lack of offseason testing would affect speed. The answer is not at all. We saw speeds approaching or exceeding 200 mph all weekend, including the 201.293 mph that put the driver of the No. 24 Chevy at the front of the field for Sunday. The speed was there, the issue lies with the format of the qualifying, and as Clint Bowyer put it “start-and-park cars” getting in the way of more competitive teams who are also trying to make the show out of the 50 car entry field this week.
How NASCAR will approach group qualifying again in early May when the series travels to Talladega will be interesting to watch. As of right now the sanctioning body is left with a mess on their hands and a pit road full of angry drivers, crew chiefs and owners who (in some cases) had their equipment ruined just to attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500. Not the ideal way to kickoff the 2015 season if you’re NASCAR. There is no doubt that this issue will be addressed and corrected before hitting another super speedway this season.
Now, onto this week’s questions….
Q: Can you address the reason for night duels when the race is in the daytime. I know this is short notice, thanks for trying. Another NASCAR try for ratings? –Richard, (Location Unknown)
A: Thanks for dropping us a line Rich. This is a great question that I know has many fans like you scratching their heads. The quick and easy answer is yes, this is a pure ratings push for Fox Sports 1 on Thursday night during primetime. A quick look back at the history of this event: in 2010 it was partially pushed to nighttime due to weather. Then, in 2013, NASCAR announced during Speedweeks that the Duels would be held under the lights in a primetime slot on the Thursday night before the Daytona 500 from 2014 on. That was a change from the usual afternoon time slot that the Duel races occupied for years prior, meaning many race fans would have to DVR the action and watch it again later that night. The new time slot just works much better for the network (Fox Sports 1) and advertisers who want to capitalize on the eyes and ears that Speedweeks brings in. It also works to the benefit of the track. Holding the event at night allows Daytona to bring in more fans who may be nearby locals or who want to spend the daylight hours at the beach, or enjoying other activities in the Florida sunshine. Can you blame them?
To your point, where this all falls apart is car setups. The Daytona 500 is run during the day, and right now the weather for Saturday is forecasted as 71 and partial sun and clouds, much different weather than a low of 32 degrees on Thursday night. The track will have tons of grip, and teams will have to prepare their cars for those track conditions, and not for a much looser setup for Sunday as the track rubbers-up and heats up in the sun. In the end, these cars are built for one thing: speed. And speed will prevail no matter what the weather conditions. The crew chiefs know this and have had a couple of years now working on their setups from night for the Duels, to day on race day, so I don’t envision this really factoring into the race outcomes all that much.
Q: Why isn’t NASCAR running the new 2015 rules changes at Daytona this weekend for the 500? Thanks. – Bill, Topeka, KS
A: Hey Bill, thanks for writing. NASCAR chose to wait to roll-out the full list of race package rules changes and improvements to the race car for 2015 at Atlanta next weekend. The thought is that making these changes at Daytona where the Sprint Cup drivers are already adjusting to group qualifying and the start of a new season was just too much all at once. Also factor in the fact that teams haven’t really tested during the offseason with the new tapered spacer in the ’15 engine package and aero changes to reduce drag (2” off the spoiler height), so making these changes for the 500 is a lot all at once. Add in that Daytona is a restrictor plate track, meaning inserting the tapered spacer would not be possible with the current engine configuration. Here is a partial list of those changes:
- Reduction of horsepower to 725 hp (via the use of a tapered spacer)
- New Roller valve lifters (Replacing flat valve lifters)
- Lower rear differential gear ratios targeting 9,000 RPM
- Rear spoiler adjustment to 6 inches high
- In-Car Track Bar Adjustment (on dash)
- 38-inch wide radiator pan
- Overall car weight reduction by 50 lbs.
NASCAR is however implementing the competition changes for Daytona, including new rules on pit road and the new electronic automated officiating using their new camera system. Also, only 11 NASCAR officials will be behind the wall on pit road for the Cup race. This should make for an interesting 500, and already has played a part in a few rule violations situations during the Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night.
Q: I’m a huge 24 fan. Have you heard if Jeff Gordon will run the “rainbow warrior” paint scheme this season at some point? – Ricky, Big Spring, TX
A: That’s a question we’ve been hearing a lot about in the last couple of weeks. Back on Feb. 6, a fan sent a tweet to Gordon with a photo of their custom-painted school bus parked on the infield of a track last season. The bus was painted up like the old DuPont rainbow warrior paint scheme from the 90s that you’re referring to. Well, Gordon himself sent a tweet back to this fan addressing the paint scheme.
— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) February 6, 2015
As you can imagine, this single sent the Twitterverse into pandemonium. It’s definitely going to be a wait and see situation, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t try to bring the scheme back for just one race during his farewell season. The merchandise opportunities alone would make it well worth the endeavor for Hendrick Motorsports and Gordon’s sponsors Axalta, AARP and 3M. It would be a gold mine.
Q: I know this is Danica Patrick’s last year for her contract with Stewart-Haas Racing. What is her future with SHR in your opinion? – Paul, Rome, NY
A: There really is no more time for Patrick to prove she belongs at this level of racing, and she’s well aware of that fact. The driver of the Go Daddy Chevrolet has just three top-10 finishes and a big fat goose egg in the top 5 column. At 32, Patrick has been a part of three major national racing series: IndyCar, XFINITY and Cup series. Her one shining moment thus far in the Cup Series might have been at the very same track we start out the season at this week, where she won the pole award in 2013. With her contract expiring at the end of 2015, Stewart-Haas Racing is faced with a tough decision: continue to help Patrick progress and continue to benefit from relationships with mega-sponsors like GoDaddy; or move forward without her and just maybe bring in a young up and coming driver in the sport to fill the seat in the No. 10 car.
Whatever happens, there is no question that Patrick knows this year is the time to really show what she can do at the sport’s highest level and take that next step towards winning, being consistently a contender and making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
A few weeks ago during the Sprint Cup Media Tour at Charlotte Motor Speedway, SHR co-owner, Gene Haas, was asked about Patrick and the contract. He told reporters that he wanted her back in the No. 10 Chevy in 2016 and was working with sponsor GoDaddy to make that goal a reality. In other words, from the boss’ mouth, at least right now, it doesn’t seem as if SHR is giving up on Danica becoming something more than just a marketing machine for the organization.
For what it’s worth, look at the talented drivers who have made it at lower levels of this sport, but never translated their driving ability into success at the Cup level. It’s an incredibly competitive business, and without solid sponsorship and (most importantly) race-proven equipment, it’s nearly impossible to have success. Danica Patrick has, arguably, some of the best equipment in the sport at SHR with support from Hendrick Motorsports, as well as full-time sponsorship with GoDaddy. This season could either be the biggest year in her career, or one of her last at this level. Either way, I’ve always thought that she has the talent, potential, and all the pieces to be wildly competitive in Sprint Cup racing.
Have a question? Email me at [email protected], and make sure to check back next week when we’ll answer your questions on all things NASCAR. Until then, enjoy the rest of Speedweeks from Daytona!