Race Weekend Central

Don’t Be Hasty to Judge: That Was the Daytona 500 You Watched

After the green-and-white checkered flags dropped twice and our traditional black-and-white model flew over the No. 41 of Kurt Busch’s Ford Fusion on Sunday evening, NASCAR nation sat back and started handing down their decisions on the effectiveness of the new 2017 segmented format and points system for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

If we think about it, that introductory sentence has so many new features from the rulebook that I’m sure every race face is still trying to stop the world from spinning.  However, before we declare all the tweaks to the racing format a boom or bust, we have to remember that the Daytona 500 is never indicative of how the rest of the season is going to run.

The race winners for the Daytona 500 since 2011 have been, in order, Trevor Bayne, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin. The Cup champion for each of those seasons, in order, were Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and a return of JJ. While our seven-time champion often bucks the trend, it’s clear that whoever finishes the Great American Race ahead of the pack is not destined for a championship-winning year.  Restrictor plates have always been and continue to be the great leveler.

Many race fans were predicting around the water cooler that the new stages would cause more cautions.  Well, the average number of cautions for this race from 2011-2016 is 8.7 for an average of 37 laps. Sunday only had eight cautions for a grand total of 40 laps that included the end of stage caution periods. So, there’s no real tell there. The fact is that teams have been creating massive piles of bent sheet metal and cars bringing out the yellow flag at Daytona International Speedway since 1959.

For years, the race director has eaten up precious time on the track by sending out the sweepers and jet dryers to clear off debris–sort of like they had to do Sunday after the lap-106 wreck.

We could argue that the teams who were leading the race most of the day didn’t win.  *Game show buzzer* No, I’m sorry.  How often do you actually see the team leading the pack at lap 195 take the trophy home upon the completion of lap 200? Yep, that’s a non-starter again.

Fuel strategy, overheating, tire failures, radio snafus, and pit road penalties… yes, they all happened on Sunday just like they always have.

In the end, nothing has changed. Not yet.

This weekend we head to Atlanta where our heroes enter a mile-and-a-half track — one similar to the majority of the tracks on the circuit.  Now that we’ve got the restrictor-plate bingo wheel out of the equation until May, we will finally get to see how the new set of rules will truly affect team strategy on a week-by-week basis.

So, before you decide that NASCAR died at the end of the 2016 season, why not wait another week and see what happens when the real season finally begins.

Something Shiny

*Welcome Back! I’ll be highlighting something fun, heartwarming, interesting or simply shiny at the bottom of each week’s column*

Was somebody listening? New England Patriots No. 87 tight end Rob Gronkowski joined the Monster Energy Girls for pre- and post-race festivities. Now that’s what I call balancing the scales! Bring him back more often. I love watching his supersized personality and person in or out of his football uniform.

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