Daytona 500 will look different

So testing is over and the Daytona 500 is a week later this year but trust me, these NASCAR Sprint Cup teams are thankful for the extra time.

I don’t know that I can ever remember an offseason with so many changes within so many organizations.

If you stop and think about it, we have nine major multi-car teams. In most cases, they create one major change at the top and actually, in some cases, more than one. It might be a driver change, as in the No. 5 car at Hendrick Motorsports with Kasey Kahne coming on board. It might be Roush Fenway Racing cutting back from four cars to only three.

All this combined generates a lot of unknowns. Sure, Daytona testing is great for these new combinations to get their feet wet, but trust me, it won’t be until we get to the races at Phoenix International Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and maybe even Bristol Motor Speedway that they really have a good feel of what they have.

You’ve heard me say this in the past, but when it comes to these new driver/crew chief combinations, it’s going to take the “heat of battle” to clearly define what the new combination is going to be like. You can have breakfast, lunch and dinner together every day in the offseason, but it’s going to take having to make those quick decisions with quick communications between the two of them during a race to truly form that bond.

On top of that, all the teams have to make the switch to electronic fuel injection for 2012. I still maintain it won’t be 100 percent trouble-free. That doesn’t mean it will be a bad thing. I believe once they close the hoods on all 43 cars and fire up for the Daytona 500 that you are going to know these cars are now using electronic fuel injection.

Two years ago the buzz was about “boys have at it.” Last year it was the change to the points system and the alterations to the Chase for the Sprint Cup format. Last week Brian France made his address during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour and there simply weren’t any major announcements. In my book that is good. To me, that says 2011 went really well and there don’t have to be any major structural changes.

Let’s face it, 2011 brought us 18 different winners in 36 points races. We had five first-time winners. When the checkered flag waved to end the season, our two championship contenders actually ended in a tie in the points, one broken by race wins to determine the champion.

So that begs the question, why would you want to change any of that?

The teams started back in August to begin working on their Daytona program. That’s how significant that one race is. They don’t stop working on it until the cars are loaded on the haulers to leave for Florida. You literally work on it to the last minute of the last day. That’s simply the DNA of these NASCAR Sprint Cup teams.

Now there still has to be a balance. Sure, with Daytona pushed back a week, there is more time to prepare. The teams can’t lose sight, however, that by pushing back Daytona, it eliminated an early off week in the schedule this year. So unlike before, they now have to find a balance of being ready for Daytona, but also realize that Phoenix, Fontana and Bristol come next. So for the first time in a long time, there is not an off week until Easter. Following that, there isn’t an off week for quite awhile.

I have been getting a lot of questions from fans about whether the rule tweaks will completely eliminate the two-car tandem racing at the restrictor-plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway. While it will limit it, it won’t eliminate it. These teams have really smart folks that are constantly working to find ways to work within and around these tweaks to maximize their ability to win these races.

Once again, the focus is on Sunday, Feb. 26 — the Great American Race — the Daytona 500. Teams are off testing at non-sanctioned tracks. Teams are burning up the hours in the wind tunnels. They are all searching for that little bit of edge to give them a leg up as SpeedWeeks in Daytona begins in just two short weeks.

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