I look forward to February every year because that means racing season is here and NASCAR is the only sport that starts the year off with its biggest race, the Daytona 500. Speed Weeks always brings excitement with new faces in new places and the general hype with NASCAR returning.
The sport has changed in the past few years. The popularity has dwindled in the past few seasons and tracks that used to be on a wait list for tickets have struggled to sell out. Tough economic times have not helped. Sponsors that were associated with drivers their whole careers have left the sport. Drivers switch teams at a rate similar to free agency in the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL. Rule changes and fixing what wasn’t broken have watered down a once exciting product. That is until recently. NASCAR has begun a process to return to its roots. The “have at it boys” mentality, while monitored, has returned and the sport is slowly making the races more about who drives the car than the car itself.
I am very intrigued by the debut of the Generation Six car. The cars now look similar to their street versions and mix a little old and new school. This season will have many storylines that could help bring the sport back to where it was. For the first time since 2004, the Sprint Cup champion was someone other than Stewart or Johnson. Brad Keselowski is a fan favorite with a bad boy attitude that has given the sport a personality it has been looking for. He doesn’t get pushed around and while he now has to carry himself as a champion, he isn’t afraid to take the Earnhardt approach and speak his mind and “rattle some cages” on the track.
Danica Patrick will be full time in the Sprint Cup Series. She has not registered a win since entering NASCAR, but has slowly improved her skills since going fulltime in the Nationwide Series last season. I think it will be interesting to follow her journey and maybe she can beat the boys and get a win. She has one of the best mentors in the business in Tony Stewart along with Ryan Newman.
Another one to watch is how will Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing get along in their final year together? Harvick has been with RCR his entire career, but as we learned in the offseason, he will join Stewart Haas Racing next year. Does his departure open the door for Childress’s grandson Austin Dillon to take over… perhaps with a familiar number Three decal on the door? I think yes.
We will see what is to come, as Speed Weeks get underway on Saturday, February 16th with the Sprint Unlimited (formerly the Bud Shootout). And of course, the 55th running of the Daytona 500 on February 24th.
Until next time…
@Bigchaz38 on Twitter
Photo: NASCAR.com/Getty Images