As mid-February dawns, I’ve got a lot of things on my mind when it comes to NASCAR. Of course, one of them is the Daytona 500, but as far as the offseason goes, there were plenty of changes to talk about. Let’s not waste any time, delving into the first 2016 edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading toward the sport’s Super Bowl this Sunday….
NASCAR’s new charter system was designed to give teams some kind of security and I think we get and understand that importance of that. But whoever came up with the system to decide which teams did and did not get charters needs to have their head examined, or was afraid that someone at the race team formerly known as Michael Waltrip Racing was ready to reveal top secret personal information about NASCAR. So, whenever there is a system that gives a team no longer in existence not one, but TWO, charters, you have to wonder what is going on. The public relations marketing language from the NASCAR machine talked about change and a new era, but really, the fact that a team that is not going to race in 2016 got two of these really smells of the old “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours political cronyism.” You can put this in the “shaking my head department.”
I can’t believe for a second that NASCAR knew what it was creating when it failed to give the Wood Brothers No. 21 a charter, but it really has set up a typical underdog “us against the NASCAR world” type of situation. The No. 21, with young and very talented driver Ryan Blaney, is set to run the full NASCAR season for the first time in several years. How a team with the same family ownership for more than 50 years that helped build a foundation for the sport wasn’t granted a charter is really a joke. But now, you see, NASCAR has a team that is a living example of what the sport was founded on, being anti-establishment and taking on the system. We get that the No. 21 team has full Penske support and that’s significant, but remember, it is also not guaranteed a starting spot like 36 other teams. Still, they showed last year they’ve got the chops to run with the big boys, and they’ll certainly gain fan support this year.
First, let’s just say this is not an anti-Jeff Gordon announcing statement. While he was not always a fan favorite, I think he will be excellent in the booth. Remember, he came up learning how to race on the dirt, was a driver who helped make Hendrick Motorsports what is today and his experience and knowledge are of great benefit to TV viewers. This is much more about FOX taking something that was not only not broken, but working quite well, and trying to fix it. Not having Larry McReynolds in the booth with Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip takes away one third of the best announcing team in sports. I watch a lot of sports by the way, so I don’t write those words lightly. What FOX did by putting Larry Mac in a separate space and asking him a question every now and then, looks like exactly what it is, just doing something to keep everybody happy so they won’t complain too much.
Something NASCAR did get right with the rule changes was the overtime line. It’s seems sort of weird to call it an overtime line when there is no event clock in this sport, but you have to like the idea of having a definite place for the lead cars to reach to determine if a restart is valid or not. It also takes away the question of if NASCAR is playing favorites in such situations (I don’t think they ever did, but it always made for good talk). The trickier question will always be when to throw the yellow flag on the last lap of a race if say, the back half of a pack in a restrictor plate race is involved in a crash and the leaders are not. Hopefully, safety will always continue to be the first factor in the decision.
I don’t know about you, but after the all the cheating scandals that took place in Michael Waltrip Racing over the years, I just can’t really believe anything Michael Waltrip says on TV anymore. It’s just a simple of matter of him not being a trustworthy voice. It’s bad enough that I will mute him on the pre-race show.
The Gibbs cars look fast again in the early going at Daytona so you know they will be among the favorites to win the Great American Race. But the only Gibbs win in the Daytona 500 came from Dale Jarrett in 1993. So, you know, it just goes to show you anything can happen at a restrictor plate track and just maybe that means a Gibbs car is due to win the Daytona 500 this year.
Contrary to the Gibbs cars, the Stewart-Haas cars were not only out of the ballpark in qualifying, two of them, the No. 14 and the No. 4, were found to have violations in post-qualifying inspection. Now for sure, the single car runs at Daytona are much different than racing in packs, so it’s not time for Stewart-Haas fans to be in an all-out panic. It’s just not the way you want to start off at Daytona.
NASCAR has the shortest offseason of any of the major sports. So, why does it seem like it’s been like 206 years (actually it will be a day short of three months) since they were racing for the title at Homestead? NASCAR season is here. Be Happy!
The Favorite: I admit it, going with the heart here and picking the Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 to get back to Victory Lane in the 500 for the sixth time. The All-Underdog Team Pick: Bobby Labonte.
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