NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is…Charters, Rookies & Green Flags

After Kyle Busch earned the 2015 Sprint Cup championship, the sport took a much needed break. The grind of the NASCAR season is one of the longest in sports, and the time away is good for the fans, drivers, crew people, media and anyone else associated with the traveling circus.

For much of the offseason the storylines followed the normal pattern of things, with a few changes here and there – like the Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief shake up for Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards – or the occasional seat filling, like Regan Smith taking over in the No. 7.

And then the countdown to the Daytona 500 grew closer and BAM!

NASCAR under the stewardship of the much beloved Brian Z. France unloaded a torrent of changes to all three national touring series. Seemingly crafted by placing various ideas on a dartboard and then blindly tossing darts and seeing which would stick.

Countdown clock? Sure.

The Chase for Trucks and NXS? You bet.

Overtime line? Why not.

Charter system? Fantastic.

Now, let’s realize the cruel fact that some kind of changes are needed in NASCAR and that the on-track product certainly could use some help at times. But these permutations may not be exactly what is needed.

Roger Goddell may have a host of issues with his little league known as NFL, but he has a rules committee that oversees changes to the game. Neither he nor the committee, however, implement what could be considered drastic changes in an offseason. Heck, the definition of a catch is still one that eludes almost everyone, yet there doesn’t seem to be much change on the horizon.

France may or may not have a committee to serve as part of the checks and balances that help make smart decisions. And in some ways, it appears that what he has done is to just make a further mess of things. If we look deeper, the decisions seem to be those from a man who is surrounded by ‘yes people’ and sequestered in his wealth.

That second aspect is what leaves an impression. Comedian Bobcat Goldwaithe once joked that Elvis (Presley) didn’t need drugs – he could have paid people to do his hallucinations for him. While the analogy may be a rough one, the idea is similar in that whatever crazy idea BZF may or may not have, he could probably get it going for his private enjoyment and not put the rest of us through some of these strange moves that messes with a sport that so many love.

But hey, it’s a new season and it’s time to get happy.

Happiness Is… Teams. The incipient charter system is supposed to bring value, stability, and equity to the existing teams while also locking the field down into a 36 plus 4 system. Or, because it’s the American way, this is merely a system that allows the wealthy to protect their assets while allowing for the occasional scrappy newcomer to try his/her hand at the sport.

There may be a different aspect that has gone overlooked and one that stems from Kyle Busch’s championship run. It’s possible that the charter system may encourage fans to look at cars as being a team rather than a driver.

The logic: Peyton Manning missed some games during the 2015 season but still won a Super Bowl. While people may have rooted for Manning to win, Denver Broncos fans might not have cared if it were Manning or Brock Osweiler or Chuck Mangione who piloted the team. What if the car numbers are supposed to represent a similar thing, because though Busch may not have been in the car the whole season, his team never stopped competing. Similarly, now that Jeff Gordon is in the broadcast booth perhaps there’s a hope that the fans will still cheer for the car number inasmuch so as rooting for rookie Chase Elliott. Perhaps.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
Chase Elliott headlines what should turn out to be a promising rookie class for the 2016 season. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Happiness Is…Rookies. It’s been a while since NASCAR has fielded a rookie class that is actually worth paying attention to. Elliott is grabbing most of the headlines because he’s sliding into the No. 24 seat but there are two other drivers worth following. Ryan Blaney, in the Woods Racing ride should also be stout, though the rigors of the Cup season may wear him down. The third driver of note is Chris Buescher, who unfortunately, is jumping into the No. 34 ride, which doesn’t quite have the prestige of the first two.

But really, to have three rather solid drivers pushing each other for the rookie of the year trophy is something that the sport needs. Tom Bowles discussed how a generation of drivers in the sport is nearing their final laps and it’d be good to know that there are some capable drivers ready to take over – even if they might not be ready just yet.

Happiness Is…Green Flag. Every year, at the end of another exhausting season, it feels like NASCAR has worn everyone down and one wonders if it’s possible to care about the next season. The sport, no doubt, encourages some frustration and ennui, and the offseason does everyone good.

And then the green flag drops on the 24 Hours of Daytona. It’s like a wake-up call. Then the green flag drops on the Sprint Unlimited, and for a moment we’re all excited, but then realize that it will be another wreck-fest and really it’s just testing with a bunch of people with whom you don’t want to share information. Then pole day. And there’s just something enjoyable about seeing the cars back on track and knowing that the big race is just a few days away. Whether or not the two races on Thursday offer anything of note may not matter, but it’ll be good to see all 40 cars hit the track on Sunday.

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