The new NASCAR

BY Darrell Waltrip • July 6, 2010

As I have told you many times, when the 2010 season started there was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air. NASCAR had come out in January and said they were going to ease the restrictions on the drivers and the catch-phrase quickly became “have at it, boys.”

Many skeptics, myself included, figured there was still going to be a lot of looking over the drivers' shoulders or micro-managing them. We soon found out when we got to Atlanta that “have at it, boys” can be pretty serious. Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski showed us that. That one incident there showed me that NASCAR really was taking a different approach to the sport. The way they handled that one incident was a bright light for me and confirmed this was going to be an exciting year.

Then when we got to Martinsville we finally got rid of that stupid spoiler and got back to a conventional wing on the car. So now there is more excitement on the track. The cars are looking better and the drivers are driving harder. You add into that the wave-around rule and the double-file restarts that have certainly improved the competition as well as the excitement of our sport.

Now that’s some great stuff, but folks, mark this down, because I am telling you that if you thought that was great for the sport, well get ready for 2011. Next year will be the start of even more things that will shake our sport up.

I think you will see major changes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup format. You have heard me say time and time again that one of the major flaws to the Chase is there is no drama and excitement once the field of 12 is set. You know once you make the top 12 in Richmond in September that the worst you can finish that year in the points come the checkered flag in November at Homestead is 12th. I’ve never liked that.

I want to see some kind of elimination or some kind of incentive to force you to race hard to stay in the top 12. I would like to see it where either you are good enough to stay in or someone that is better than you knocks you out. I like the thought of a guy getting really hot that is outside the top 12, taking the place of a guy inside the top 12. I would be in favor of any kind of elimination.

I was thrilled with the debut of the new Nationwide Series car last Friday night at Daytona International Speedway. I have told you before that this car is the second generation of the car of tomorrow. Everything that is wrong with the COT has been addressed in this new Nationwide car. This new car has brand identity and that’s a big plus. I see this car making its way eventually into the Cup series. Maybe we are finally getting back to cars that look like the ones they said they were. I sure hope so.

Also look for the schedule to change. Now I have no idea what is going to happen to the schedule but I just know there are going to be some tracks that currently have two races losing one. Some tracks are going to get a second race and even a track that doesn’t have a race will get one.

Look for Kansas to get a second race. Look for Las Vegas to get a second date. I believe Kentucky will finally get the Cup date it richly deserves. Speculation has it — and folks, again, it’s just speculation at this point — that Atlanta, Loudon and Martinsville will all lose one date. So that will be a huge shakeup in the schedule. When you start changing the layout of the schedule then you have to factor in a lot of things, like yearly weather patterns, when determining where the actual date of the race falls.

If you remember back in May, Speedway Motorsports Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith threw out a $20 million carrot for any driver that could win both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600 on the same day. Now I am hearing that Indy is considering changing their start time of the race to try to make it easier for more drivers to attempt both races. I sure hope they do. Memorial Day weekend is always chock full of awesome racing and something like someone doing the Indy/Charlotte double would be so amazing.

NASCAR continues to look for ways to go green. I think that’s a real plus. They continue to look at going to ethanol fuel injection on the cars.

There’s also some consideration to looking at the top-35 rule. That might get tweaked a little bit. There’s talk of maybe making it into a form of franchising. Maybe they can come up with a formula to lock in some of these guys that have made huge commitments to our sport who sometimes get bumped from a race from a "start and park" team. Start and parks are another area I believe they are going to look at.

We haven’t gotten around to finalizing all the sponsor and driver changes yet for 2011. Where’s Budweiser going? Mobil 1 and Walmart are looking around. We know Kasey Kahne’s going to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, but where will he be next year?

One of the other changes might be a new champion. There are a lot of serious contenders trying to dethrone Jimmie Johnson, so maybe we will enter the 2011 season with a new champion. The end of this year and the beginning of next year is going to be something to behold, I can tell ya.

I know some folks continue to complain about the Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series. I don’t think there is anything that can be done there, nor for that matter needs to be done there. I like it the way it is. The Nationwide Series needs those teams and Cup drivers particularly as we move forward with this new Nationwide car. Personally I love watching the Cup boys race in all three series.

The other big change actually has already started. Work on repaving Daytona has begun for only like the second time in its history. Folks, when we get to Daytona in February 2011, well you better batten down the hatches. You are going to see a wild Daytona 500.

What is going to be great is the track will finally have grip again. The drivers will be able to make the cars go where they want. Trust me, Daytona will never be like Talladega. Remember that because Daytona is a much tougher track to get around. The track is narrower than Talladega and literally doesn’t have as much room to maneuver and race.

Wouldn’t restrictor-plate racing be fun if they could actually race each other in those packs and not bounce off each other plus cause those huge pileups? I believe that’s what you will see when we get to Daytona with this resurfaced track. So there are a lot of things to look forward to in 2011.

Let’s get back to 2010 and particularly Daytona last weekend. We saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. pull off a great win Friday night in the No. 3 car. That was so exciting and emotional. Junior made it clear that’s it. You won’t see him in a No. 3 car ever again.

I have talked to him numerous times about that and I understand it totally. That’s just not who he is. One of the things Dale Jr. strives for is to have his own identity. He wants to be Dale Jr. and not Dale Sr. So that was an incredible performance by he and everyone involved Friday night to pull off that win. Getting all the stars to align to simply put the No. 3 Wrangler car on the track was one thing, but it was up to the man behind the wheel to seal the deal.

Dale Jr. had all the pressure in the world on him Friday night and he delivered in spades. I am very proud of him for what he was able to do. It was the happiest I have seen him in a long, long time.

Then Saturday night my man Harvick came through. Kevin Harvick is for real folks. For some reason there are still folks every week that think Kevin will just fade away, but he continues to prove them wrong. He’s proven to me that he is a serious contender to take Jimmie Johnson down. The way he and that team are performing has me feeling really good about his chances to be our 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion.

It wasn’t that long ago that you could point to the Gibbs cars as the ones to dethrone Jimmie, but unfortunately the last few weeks those teams have fallen on the faces. Remember that in the last two years, Kyle Busch has won a ton of races, made the Chase and then was a non-factor. Then Kyle won races and didn’t even make the Chase, so there is something missing there.

Yes, Denny Hamlin has been incredibly strong this year but he also has stumbled some the past few weeks. It just seems their highs just aren’t as high as their lows are low. It just seems to be their Achilles' Heel.

Is there time to fix it? You bet there is. There are still eight more races before the Chase starts and Denny has some really good tracks for him coming up. Denny even said the other night that he can’t imagine not winning some more races before the Chase starts. Not only will it give he and the team momentum coming out of Richmond in September, but the all important bonus points as the points for the Chase contenders are reset.

I love going to Daytona and this past weekend was no different. However, I always go to Daytona filled with excitement and anxiety. It’s mixed emotions for me. Wednesday night down there I went to the Stewart-Marchman fundraising dinner. When they handed out the Benny Parsons Award, well it got me thinking about how much I missed Benny. Then it got me thinking about how much I missed Neil Bonnett. Then I got thinking about Bill France Jr. and of course, my old buddy, Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Daytona conjures up a lot of emotion for me when I go there. We always know the racing is going to be exciting. Winning at Daytona is always a huge honor no matter whether it is in February for the 500 or July for the 400. When you leave Daytona with a trophy, trust me, its one of the biggest wins of your career. For me, I have left Daytona with trophies, but I have also left there with a heavy heart when I think about all my buddies I have worked and raced with. It still hurts that they aren’t with us anymore and that’s what Daytona always does to me. I love the place but it sure can pull on your heartstrings.


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