NASCAR

New NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule offers dramatic possibilities

Daytona International Speedway (Getty Images)
The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season kicks off at Daytona International Speedway.
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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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In case you haven’t seen it, the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup was released late Wednesday afternoon.

My feeling right now is that I’m excited about the new schedule.

From Daytona to Kansas City, the NASCAR on FOX schedule for 2011 really does have a little bit of everything for race fans. It’s going to be good – it’s going to be real good in 2011. I think we've got the right team of broadcasters and pit-road reporters to be able to cover the sport and give our viewers what they are looking for. Also, we enjoy working with the different venues and seeing the different fans around the country.

I liked it that this season the NASCAR on FOX schedule ended in NASCAR’s “hometown” of Charlotte – I thought it worked well with our schedule. But now, having been to Kansas Speedway, which will host the final NASCAR on FOX race of the season in 2011, I think it’s a great market for us to do what we do best and showcase another racetrack we on FOX have not had an opportunity to work at.

I’m very excited about that aspect of it.

As you look at the new schedule, the highlight of the year will always be the Daytona 500. Starting our season off with the Great American Race is always going to be special. That said, anytime you get an opportunity to cover races like those at Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond International Raceway and Martinsville Speedway in your part of the season, like we have for NASCAR on FOX, you won’t be disappointed.

We also never want to overlook the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. When I look at the new schedule, with the exclusion of Indianapolis, the races that matter to most fans and are considered the “crown jewel” events will be on FOX once again – Daytona, the 600 and the Darlington race. I’m really excited with the way things have worked out once again and I look forward to changing up my travel schedule at least a little bit for 2011.

One of those travel changes comes right off the bat, as we go from a superspeedway in Daytona to a short track in Phoenix starting next year (instead of the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway, which is now race No. 5 on the schedule).

I think it’s going to be fine for our competitors. It’ll be a great test for them to change and adjust to two very different types of racing within a week’s time. We always want to see who is the best overall driver, and we’ll get a good test for that from the start of the year.

And actually, it’s going to be very similar to what we are seeing right now – last week we were at Michigan International Speedway, where drivers were getting up to 200 mph going into Turn 1, to Bristol Motor Speedway, a short track with much slower speeds – and shorter tempers. It’s a test of your ability on how you can adapt mentally as well as physically to the demands of your car and what it takes to be successful at both venues. The start of the 2011 season will be a great challenge to these guys coming right out of Daytona.

Continuing to look at the schedule, you see Talladega. That’s always a wild card no matter how you look at it. A lot of people will circle it on their calendars because they know that’s the day that anything can happen – anything from a fabulous finish that won’t be decided until the last two inches of the racetrack to some of the most unbelievable and unforgettable multi-car wrecks. It never seems to fail that whenever NASCAR on FOX goes to Talladega, we have an exciting event.

My only minor gripe is that I almost wish we would’ve stayed on the West Coast an extra week so we could have Phoenix-Vegas-Fontana all in one stretch. I know some people believe that staying in one part of the country too long and getting that market saturated doesn’t help anybody, and they’re probably right. I’m just thinking of the competitors and all the traveling truck drivers who are running back and forth across the country.

It’s hard to believe that when we arrive in Daytona for 2011 it’ll be the 10th anniversary of our first race on FOX. Looking back, there are so many memories from that day. First and foremost though, I don’t want to see what happened 10 years ago happen anytime in regards to losing a competitor – of course, I’m speaking of the loss of Dale Earnhardt on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. But if you look back to remember that race, I’m looking for the excitement we had in our inaugural race.

We are sometimes too quick to forget that if it hadn’t been for the tragedy, it was pretty much a miracle race for at least one driver with Michael Waltrip getting his first win. A lot of people didn’t believe in Michael, but it was Earnhardt who stepped up and said, “Hey, I want you to drive my car and be a part of my organization,” and eventually he was the guy who gave Michael the boost that sent him to Victory Lane. I think Michael responded just how Earnhardt anticipated he would when he gave him the No. 15 ride.

As we get ready to go into the 2011 NASCAR on FOX season, you have to wonder: Who will capture fans' imagination with a dramatic move this time? Will it be Kasey Kahne, who is in a one-year contract deal with Red Bull Racing next season and taking that team to new heights by getting them their first huge race win? How about Marcos Ambrose, who will be driving for Richard Petty – can he get the King back in Victory Lane in Daytona? There are so many possibilities. Also, as we roll into 2011, will we be talking about a different champion or a five-time champ?

The cool thing about what we’ve got is that we will have the ability to be ready like never before when it comes to Daytona. Our preparation and the storylines that we will bring to the forefront when the 2011 season starts will be second to none. I know that a lot of people say that we do the best job covering the sport, and I believe that. We bring the personalities and the people to our broadcast. It’s not all about numbers, it’s about people – and that’s what’s important.

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