Waltrip: “NASCAR is giving teams just enough rope to get themselves in trouble”
With less than 48 hours before FOX Sports opens Daytona Speedweeks with the first on-track activity of the weekend, MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES practice on Saturday (10:30 AM ET on FS1), members of the network’s on-air broadcast team share their thoughts on the major storylines and key players as they embark on the new season. This year’s running of the “Great American Race” marks FOX Sports’ 15th, and Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, Darrell Waltrip, Chris Myers and Matt Yocum all have been with the network since its first broadcast in 2001.
FOX commences its two weeks of coverage from Daytona International Speedway with the 60th running of the DAYTONA 500, live on Sunday, Feb. 18 (2:30 PM ET). Below are the thoughts of FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer Mike Joy and analyst Darrell Waltrip:
FOX SPORTS: As we prepare to open the 2018 season, what are the top storylines you are watching heading into Daytona?
“I’m watching the young versus the veteran drivers. We all know who the young ones are, but most of the older ones don’t want to admit they are old. In my mind, the ‘older’ group is the one above their prime – above the 32-35-year-old line. But 30 is the ideal age in this sport. Look back over the years — Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Tony Stewart, and I were all about 30 years old at our peak. As a driver, you ride that horse for a while. Then you turn 40 and things slow way down. For the majority, you’re lucky to win one race, let alone multiple ones, at that point. So, it will be interesting to watch the two age groups battle each other, particularly for those who aren’t quite aware which one they fall into.”
“Every stage point matters. Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn proved that last year as they cruised into the finale at Homestead. Expect every team that hopes to contend for the Cup to be fighting for stage points from the start. Additionally, is there parity? It won’t be so evident at Daytona and Talladega where the aero rules are different, but I’ll be surprised if Chevy’s new Camaro body isn’t the equal of Toyota’s Camry on the intermediate tracks.”
FOX SPORTS: Which of the young drivers do you think is poised to be the breakout star of the group?
“Kyle Larson already is a star, as is Ryan Blaney. Chase Elliott will be, whether he wins often or not. So, I look at Erik Jones and Alex Bowman, who each have a year of Cup experience under their belts, as best poised to win a race this year.”
FOX SPORTS: Will Hendrick Motorsports rebound to its usual prominence this year?
“Based on early testing, the new Chevrolet Camaro should help. It’s better aerodynamically, which is where they were hurting. You can’t keep a powerhouse like Hendrick down forever. They’ll be competitive. Martin Truex Jr. ran over the competition last year, and he did it with a fast car. The first thing Hendrick has to do is match his speed.”
“Of course they will. Like all the top teams, they worked hard in the offseason, and the aerodynamics of the new Camaro body will erase much of their deficit to the Camry.”
FOX SPORTS: How much pressure is on Jimmie Johnson to lead Hendrick Motorsports with two young drivers, Alex Bowman and William Byron, coming in this year?
“The biggest difference with the Hendrick team might be what their new drivers bring to team debriefs and strategy sessions. As they develop, it may be the second half of the season before the entire group performs to its potential.”
FOX SPORTS: How might the complexion of the Daytona 500 change this year with the new package, including the elimination of the ride-height rule and teams bringing their own rear shocks and springs?
“NASCAR is giving teams just enough rope to get themselves in trouble in Daytona. The cars should be faster with the elimination of the ride-height rule and teams’ ability to use different shocks and springs. NASCAR better have a bunch of smaller restrictor plates laying around when we get there because they will be faster than they have been in a while.”
“The Fords may have several advantages at both restrictor plate tracks. Their bodies create less downforce than the Chevys and Toyotas, and the Ford bumper faces are flatter, which makes for more predictable bump drafting. If two Fords hook up in the closing laps, they could be very tough to beat.”
FOX SPORTS: What do you expect out of the new Chevy Camaro? Is the Ford camp at a disadvantage with an older body?
“The Ford Fusion NASCAR body was designed to be optimized using a tall and wide rear spoiler. That aero package is no longer used. The new Camry and Camaro manage the air differently and were designed to maximize the effect of the shorter, lower spoilers in use today. I expect the Ford to have a speed advantage at Daytona and Talladega but the Camry and Camaro to be better on the intermediate tracks.
FOX SPORTS: How much of an advantage will it be for the teams running the Clash at Daytona in preparation for the Duel and the Daytona 500?
“The Clash drivers will have a huge advantage because they will experience the car under the new package in the draft before the others. I wouldn’t want to be in that race, but I sure would want a couple of my teammates who are.”
FOX SPORTS: Who is your preseason pick to win the championship?
“I think this year’s champ will be named Kyle… could be Larson, might be Busch.”
FOX SPORTS: FOX Sports marks its 15th Daytona 500 broadcast with this year’s edition. What is your best memory in the TV booth since 2001?
“My best memory on the air for FOX is also my worst memory. Daytona 2001. My brother, Michael, won his first NASCAR race and Dale Earnhardt lost his life. An incredibly high high and an incredibly low low all at the same time. It was the first Cup race I’d called and one of the best we had seen in quite some time. It was both exhilarating and gut-wrenching and always will be.”
FOX SPORTS: Anything else on your mind?
“Yes, I wish NASCAR wouldn’t take the cars back to the R&D Center following a race. If you go through pre- and post-qualifying and pre- and post-race inspection and are legal, they should send you home with your car. End of story. Taking the cars back, disassembling them and looking for something wrong isn’t good for the sport.”