Minor change – right change

Darrell Waltrip weighs in on latest in NASCAR

With all the discussion and concern about what NASCAR was going to do with the 2014 rule changes, now the teams have to feel like Santa Claus came early this year. There were a lot of things that were tested last week at the NASCAR test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was all over the board, and some of them could have had huge financial ramifications for the teams.

Please remember that these teams the last couple of years have been faced with some pretty steep uphill battles when getting ready for the new season. Two years ago, our sport switched over to fuel injection. Now that was a huge change from what we had in the past. It had its own learning curve, and naturally there were some bumps in the road.

This year brought the sport another major change in the form of a whole new car. I’m not talking something somewhat minor like a new nose for the car or changes in the rear of the car. I am literally talking about a brand new car for all three manufacturers – the Generation 6 car. This was a whole new car built from scratch in a massive collaboration between NASCAR, the drivers, the owners, the teams and, most importantly, the manufacturers. Everyone worked together to blow life into this new Gen-6 car.

Just like when they made the move to fuel injection two years ago, the teams were once again faced with some pretty steep hurdles beginning with literally not enough parts and pieces. Even when heading to Daytona back in February, there was a shortage of cars. There were a lot of sleepless nights, headaches and expenses. This was another challenge that the teams overcame with flying colors.

What these teams have been put through these last two years is why I was hoping NASCAR wasn’t going to do anything too dramatic to the cars for 2014. Do the cars need some tweaking? They sure do, but in the same breath, they surely don’t need something dramatic or earth-shattering done to them. These owners and teams need somewhat of a break, both financially and from a work-load standpoint.

I know there was talk of a tapered-spacer like they have on the Nationwide cars. That is a major change. It literally changes everything in your engine package. When you start doing that, well, the bottom line is it’s expensive to go from an open manifold like they have now to the tapered-spacer. So that was a big concern because there was a contingent that felt the cars were too fast and needed to be slowed down. I still can’t buy into that. I can’t wrap my brain around the thought that RACE cars are too FAST.

We’ve got the best race car we’ve ever had. We’ve got some of the best racing we’ve ever had. Also remember that we had 17 different winners this year in our 36-race season. This is the fastest car in the history of NASCAR. If you don’t believe me, go look at all the track records that were set this season.

I said over and over this season that the car was better than the teams were. It was true because of the learning curve the teams had to go through to find what the car liked. Some hit on it right away. It took others more time. Collectively, though, you saw as the season went on that all the teams improved on what the car liked and didn’t like. There’s still a lot of untapped potential there, in my mind, so that’s another exciting thing to watch develop in this coming season.

So I am glad this 2014 rule package doesn’t include anything too dramatic. It just wouldn’t be fair to make these teams throw away all the notes and data they’ve collected on a car that is only a year old. Starting over is tough, so I am really happy these teams don’t have to.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with minor changes. A minor tweak here or there is always welcomed. For example, going from a rounded edge to a square leading edge on the splitter is simple enough. For the life of me, I never understood the reason for the ride height rule. It always baffled me that a car could be too low after a race when they already run the nose all but dragging the track, yet after the race they wanted to slam a team with penalties and fines because the car was too low. It never made sense to me, and apparently not to someone else, because they have finally changed that rule.

Teams will no longer have to go through that aggravation next season. I know there is some concern about the spoiler change, but you have to remember that NASCAR has been through the evolution of all their cars in the past. We’ve had big spoilers. We’ve had little spoilers. We’ve had no spoilers, when the car of tomorrow had the wing that everyone hated.

NASCAR knows that downforce is the best friend a driver can ever have. When the car will stick to the racetrack, well, then you can race people. If your car has downforce, if it’s under you and stuck to the racetrack, you’ll feel comfortable going into that corner with someone beside you, to make that pass and to dive off into that corner not worrying about spinning out or getting into the guy beside you. So NASCAR knows that downforce is the key to it all, and they are always going in areas to give the drivers more of it when they can.

Our sport is in the best shape its ever been. We got the best car. Goodyear is making the best tire they ever have. We have the best rules. The product we are putting on the track and the way the races are being run today is the best in the history of our sport. That’s exciting for the future.

You can’t keep going back to something we’ve already done 30 years ago. It just doesn’t make sense to me. If it didn’t work then, why in the world do you think it would work now? Let’s just keep tweaking on the car and the rules. Just keep improving on what you already have because, again, it’s the best its ever been.

So the teams now have the 2014 rules package. Don’t forget, you won’t see them come into play until Phoenix, which is our second race of the season. Daytona and Talladega are their own animals and have their own set of rules. I am happy for the teams and the owners. As a former car owner, I know how expensive a minor rule change can mean in the long run.

Car owner Richard Childress had the best quote a number of years ago when NASCAR was meeting with all the owners about ways to save them money. After listening to all their proposals, Richard piped up and said, "I just don’t know if I can afford for you to keep saving me money." It was classic.

We are heading towards a really great season in 2014. There are some exciting things on the horizon. Can Jimmie Johnson become only the third driver in NASCAR history to win seven championships? I am also really excited about the return of the No. 3 to the track with young Austin Dillon behind the wheel. I think that will do a lot for our sport next year.

But before we get to next year, let’s take some time and enjoy the holidays. Christmas is next week and then we ring in the New Year a week after that. I hope everyone who is traveling stays safe. Please say thank you and say a prayer for all our men and women here and overseas who keep us safe.

So spend time with your family and remember what Christmas is all about. My wish for you this Christmas is you receive something this Christmas that you can’t buy. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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