What's New in NASCAR?
So, what's new?
First and foremost, and covered to death, is the signing of Danica Patrick to JR Motorsports. She's had a practice session at Daytona, and once she figured out the differences in getting in and out of the car- between Indy and NASCAR - by all accounts she did very well. She'll make her ARCA debut at Daytona in a couple short weeks, but her Nationwide debut will wait until California. Danica wasn't the only female in an ARCA car at Daytona, either. the Cope twins, Milka Duno and others also took in the testing session, but were lost in the hoopla that surrounded Danica. The ARCA race on February 6th will undoubtedly be one to watch.
A few teams have had to make changes, continuing the trend that unfortunately started last year when the recession went into full effect. At this time last year, it was unsure if we would see a full entry list on any given weekend. In fact, the field fillers made a quiet return - cars who start the race, run a few laps and drop out, to take home just enough money to allow them to show up again. Teams that have closed shop include the 26 of Roush Racing (they've sold the team points to the Latitude 43 Race Team, establishing a "comprehensive services contract") and the 07 of Richard Chidress Racing, although there is hope the car may run in a few limited races. Casey Mears is still working on finding a ride for 2010, but Jamie McMurray has signed with Earnhardt Ganassi to drive the 1 car vacated by Martin Truex Jr. Unfortunately, it isn't just the drivers who are struggling, but all the crew memebers, engineers, Crew Chiefs that were once at home in the NASCAR garage have found themselves displaced and in the unemployment line.
It doesn't look as though things will improve any time too soon, and the newer owners of NASCAR teams need to readjust their thinking. It's wonderful to come into the sport and want to be successful, but the likes of George Gillett haven't seen the success they envisioned, possibly because of the lack of reinvestment. Ray Evernham recently said in an interview with NASCAR.com that he sees the future of NASCAR teams being multiple owners. He also stated that he thinks NASCAR has been a tad greedy,
"Some might say that NASCAR has been a little greedy. But to be fair to NASCAR, the sport lost not only Bill France Jr., but also Bruce Kennedy [Lesa France's husband], who played a huge role in keeping things stable there. Brian [France] is smart enough to do the job, but does he really want to do it? That's what a lot of people question. [NASCAR president] Mike Helton can do it, but he wears a lot of hats already. He has a lot on him. NASCAR is going through a little bit of an identity crisis at the top at the same time the economy went in the dumpster. ... We hit a peak, it's coming down, and it'll go back up, but not at the same trajectory."
Amid the unemployment, however, there is hope for a few people. Reed Sorenson thought he would be one of those without a ride, but he announced last night on NASCAR Hub that he has a ride for 5 Cup races and a bunch more Nationwide races with Braun Racing, in the number 32 Dollar General car. Other drivers have moved or returned to the feeder series, while other open wheelers, such as Nelson Piquet Jr and Vitor Meira explore stock car options.
Although Tony Stewart has remained somewhat out of the news over the winter break, there is no doubt he will return to his Cup garage refreshed and ready to race again, and again for a championship. He spent his winter break in Australia, something Dale Earnhardt Jr did a few years ago. It's too bad Dale Jr didn't go with him - it might have given him a real break and a chance to regrou and rethink his priorities. I have no doubts Tony will be in the Chase, winning races and I expect the same from his employee/teammate, Ryan Newman.
In the meantime, there have been personal developments amid the drivers, most prominently with the announcement that Jimmie Johnson and wife, Chandra, will welcome a baby to their family in the summer. Elliott Sadler and his wife are expecting, news that was announced prior to the end of the 2009 season, and prior to the Kevin Harvick Inc announcement that Elliott will share seat time in the second KHI Truck entry with Kevin Harvick. Carl Edwards and his wife, Kate, may also already have a new addition by the time the Daytona 500 gets underway.
Speaking of Carl Edwards, he has come out 100% in support of one of NASCAR considered changes, that of the replacement of the rear deck wing with the more commonly seen spoiler from previous years. The change won't likely come about until sometime in April. NASCAR will have a test weekend over the Easter weekend in Charlotte, allowing the teams to analyze the workings of the spoiler on the current car configuration.
Another positive move, at least in the eyes of this fan, is the reduction of the race length at California speedway. This race is the fourth race in the Chase and one of the most boring races on the circuit. The race has been reduced to 400 miles and will be known as the Pepsi Max 400. Conversely, Phoenix International Raceway has been given additional laps. Although the two tracks are only a few hundred miles apart, and shaped with the same D-oval configuration, they couldn't be more different when it comes to the actual racing. The Phoenix race will gain 63 laps, to be 375 miles in length, but the name will reflect the distance in kilometres., to be known as the Subway Fresh Fit 600.
And finally, in just the last couple of days, ABC and ESPN made what I view as a devastating announcement for Canadian NASCAR fans. ESPN will virtually take over the broadcasting of all NASCAR races in their contract, excepting three night time races. ESPN partners with TSN in Canada, but TSN has no obligation to broadcast any races live, and in fact, will willingly time delay a NASCAR race in order to get in the completion of curling, darts, bowling or poker. One can only hope that TSN will realise there are an abundance of NASCAR fans in Canada and will actually have someone paying attention when we call and tell them so.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that Robby Gordon has been competing in the Dakar Rally, this year in South America. A few days ago we wrote that motorcyclist Luca Manca, competing in the rally for the first time, suffered serious head injuries in an accident last Thursday. Less than a week after the injury it was announced that Luca was out of the induced coma and responding to directions from his physicians. I continue to pray for his speedy recovery. Oh, and by the way, even though Robby has suffered incredible bad luck, he is currently running in tenth overall. Never say give up Robby!
One month until the Daytona 500. That's all we have to wait. I'll have another report in approximately a week, to keep you in the know. In the meantime, SPEED is continueing to show updates and past races, just to get the adreneline pumping. It isn't the same, but it's a start.