Tag: Daytona International Speedway

Paying Points For Daytona Qualifying Races Is Nothing New

If you let time go on long enough, things tend to repeat themselves. We see this in movies, music, and of course NASCAR. While NASCAR is not trading in the 1.5-mile paved tracks for .5-mile dirt tracks, it is going into the past by awarding points for this year’s Daytona qualifying races. Continue reading “Paying Points For Daytona Qualifying Races Is Nothing New”

Jeff Gordon Flashback: The Daytona 500

Gordon (middle) with teammates Terry Labonte (left) and Ricky Craven (right) after his 1997 victory
Gordon (middle) with teammates Terry Labonte (left) and Ricky Craven (right) after his 1997 victory

The year 2015 marks the final full-time season from Jeff Gordon, who will undoubtedly go down as one of the best drivers in NASCAR history. While it is sad to think Gordon will be done after this season, the good news is we can spend the whole season celebrating his career. Odds are good we could see Gordon drive in the Sprint Cup Series after 2015, but when it comes to Daytona it is a big NO to running here again. “I definitely won’t be running another restrictor plate race,” Gordon told media members last week. Continue reading “Jeff Gordon Flashback: The Daytona 500”

Daytona Qualifying Disaster

There is an old saying that what drivers hate, fans will love. Sunday afternoon’s qualifying for the starting two position of next week’s Daytona 500 proved that saying wrong. Both fans, drivers, and media alike classified the knockout qualifying rounds as “idiotic,” “dumb,” “the worst,” and “not even entertaining.” The only group that seemed to enjoy it was the FOX broadcast team who had to enjoy the ratings as fans watched in horror at what the Daytona 500 qualifying has become.

Just one year ago, and many years prior, this day was single car qualifying which saw the fastest two drivers be reserved for the front row of the Daytona 500. There was much prestige to be felt by drivers and crews because this was the culmination of an entire offseason of trying to build the fastest car. This year, to spice things up, NASCAR brought in their knockout qualifying format that it had used with success last season (minus the fall Talladega race, another restrictor plate track like Daytona).

This format saw the field split into two groups, with the top 12 in each group advancing to the second round. Then the top twelve of that group would advance to the third and final round, with the fastest car in that session becoming the pole sitter for the “Great American Race.”

The problem with this scenario is a few things, first instead of filling out the entire field, this spectacle was used for the first two spots. In four days there will be two races run to determine order of the field, which feels redundant to put it kindly. The second problem is each round has a three minute clock, but drivers do not start until half the time has passed. This would allow a fast first lap for some, while others might not have had enough time to attempt theirs or would not have enough time to knock you off. So basically for over a minute, cars just sat on pit road waiting. The third problem was exactly what we saw in the first round, which was a multi-car wreck (typical of restrictor plate racing) that not only put some drivers in a bad spot qualifying wise, but in Reed Sorenson’s case, unless his team can rebuild his car in four days, he won’t be able to even try to make it into the race.

Clint Bowyer, who was caught up in the Sorenson wreck after the two made contact, did not hold back in his interview with FOX after being released from the care center. “It’s idiotic to be out here doing this anyway. It makes no sense in being able to put on some cute show for whatever the hell this is, then you have a guy out there in desperation doing this crap like this. There’s no reason to be out here. These guys have spent six months working on these cars, busting their asses on these cars to go out there and have some guy out of desperation do that crap, but it ain’t his fault. It’s not, it’s NASCAR’s fault for putting us out here in the middle of this crap for nothing.”

Other drivers weighed in with similar thoughts as Bowyer, including last season’s Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson. “I think they need to go back to single-car qualifying. I think that’s about it; for Superspeedways anyway, because this is pathetic.” Team owner and driver Tony Stewart took to Twitter to call out NASCAR for what went on today. Keep in mind that all four of his cars did not advance past the first round, but I think the frustration was beyond that.

In my opinion, AJ Allmendinger’s assessment of the day was spot on. “Honestly, I could have cared less how I qualified. I just didn’t want to wreck. Restrictor-plate qualifying; it’s going to be boring or dumb, no matter what, honestly. It’s the nature of it. It’s pretty cool for a race team to win the Daytona 500 pole. That’s prestigious and that’s important. But the rest of the speedway qualifying doesn’t really matter. You could just draw out of a hat for Sunday and that would be a lot easier.”

Naturally the cheerleaders of what we saw were the FOX broadcasters Darrell Waltrip, Mike Joy, and Larry McReynolds. Also joining that bandwagon was ex-driver Kenny Wallace, who works for FOX, and current driver Michael Waltrip, who works for FOX. Waltrip went so far as to say he had fun in his car out there trying to qualifying for the 500. I understand they have to keep things positive, but just another reminder of why I don’t mind turning down the volume on the TV while races are on.

The lone positive in this whole debacle was Jeff Gordon picking up the pole for his final Daytona 500. The final round of qualifying almost saw half the field running not even being able to register a time as they played chicken waiting for someone to leave pit road. Had Martin Truex, Jr. just waited a few more seconds, he could have been the lone driver to make a time and collect the pole. Instead, it was Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson creating an all Chevrolet front row for the season opening race. “This is one of the most gratifying poles here at Daytona that I have ever had,” commented Gordon.

I just hope for all the complaining that drivers and fans did today NASCAR will learn from their mistake and not do this again. The realist in me, though, believes NASCAR will fine drivers like Bowyer (whose whole rant was epic) and Stewart for speaking out in order to send the message that they need NASCAR more than NASCAR needs them. I hope Thursday is not as much of a shit show as today was.

NASCAR All-Star Races Are A Joke

Like most things in NASCAR, something that started as a simple concept has spun out of control and needs to be stopped. The two all-star events for NASCAR, the Sprint Unlimited run at the Daytona International Speedway, and the Sprint All-Star Race run at the Charlotte Motor Speedway have ran their course and should be retired.

All-star events are cool, but when you take away the factor of meaning (points, win/loses) behind them, they always seem to lack something. This point is not a NASCAR exclusive issue, other sports like hockey, basketball, and famously football have seen their all-star events called into question because of a lack of interest by participants and fans. Baseball had to respond to declining interest by awarding the winning league of the game home field advantage for the World Series, aka give the event some sort of meaning, but that has been met with mixed results.

The Sprint Unlimited was originally created to honor drivers who won poles the previous season. After it was realized that there, on average, were only 10-15 drivers who won poles the rules started to be adjusted to add more cars. Especially at Daytona, where pack racing is king, only having 10 cars (extreme low example) makes for nothing short of terrible racing. This week it was announced how the 2015 field would be made up and that is how I know this event has “jumped the shark.”

To get into the 2015 Sprint Unlimited you need to have won a pole in the previous season (like how it all began) and be running the full 2015 season (I call that the Brian Scott rule). It doesn’t end there, because if that didn’t get you in and you made last season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, you’re now in this event. Because part of the new rules say a minimum field of 25, the next way to get into the field is to have previously won a Daytona 500 pole and are running the full season (I call that the Danica Patrick rule). And finally, if 25 drivers can’t be found that way, they’ll round out the field with the highest placing drivers in the last season’s point standings who are not already in.

The interesting part about how this field is made up is how often it was emphasized that it was a minimum field of 25 drivers. That means, in NASCAR’s favorite scenario, we could see 30 or more drivers compete in the race. This was add excitement to a sometimes bland event, but at that point how is it an all-star race and not just a normal race?

Let’s take a quick look at the Sprint All-Star race. That was created originally to honor race winners of the previous season and up to that point in the current season. Again, great concept, but they found out early that there weren’t that many drivers winning, especially back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The solution was a race prior to the event to allow a few drivers (typically five) the ability to race their way in. That worked for some time before additional one off races and additional rules were added.

To make the event exciting, segments were added with the possibility of field inversion to keep drivers from running away with the race. The problem with this is every year the rules have been adjusted so much that most (drivers, crews, fans, etc.) don’t know the rules until the day of the race how the race is to be run. That should have been a red flag right there that gimmicks were needed to keep fan interest on TV and in the stands.

Besides the dilution of the honor of getting into these races, I think the biggest issue, and why I feel so strongly about dropping these races, is there is nothing that different going on from any other race. Sure there’s segments and mandatory pit stops, but the cars are running at the same tracks they always run at.

For me, if you’re going to do an all-star race, make it something unique and different. Other sports do this, be it playing in a different city from normal like football or how the teams are made up of players from all different teams. In NASCAR it’s the same drivers with the same teams running the same cars. They should just call these test sessions for the teams that have the money to run them and go all out.

My suggestion is ditch the Unlimited, there is already almost three weeks of practice at Daytona there doesn’t need to be anymore. NASCAR sort of agreed by ending preseason testing in January there because it is honestly ridiculous how much time they have on track for this race. You keep the all-star race though, but don’t run it at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, instead run it at the little dirt track across the street. Then you don’t have the drivers run their Cup cars, instead have them run late model cars.

This would be an instant hit, just look at what Eldora Speedway’s inclusion in the Truck Series schedule has done for that facility and the Trucks. While a smaller venue, the dirt track would be packed to see the NASCAR stars do something different. Then you can do all the segments and tweaks the race already has, but it would make more sense being on a small track setting. And most importantly, you’re going back to the roots of the sport in one of the most historic cities for NASCAR.

If NASCAR won’t go to a different model for their all-star events, they might as well make those two weekends additional races that pay points. We are closing in on a time when nearly everyone makes these special events and takes away from them being special. Change is needed and if they keep with the status quo, I’ll not hesitate to find something better to do with my time on those Saturday nights.

Earnhardt’s Win Comes At Perfect Time For NASCAR

Daytona_500_14_Winner_Dale_Earnhardt_Jr_Field

A lot has happened over the past few months in the world of NASCAR. Change is the big word for the 2014 season, and that change has been met with a lot of resistance. First with rules the Chase field was expanded and now features a four driver dash in the final race to determine a champion. Qualifying procedures have been changed drastically to feature knockout rounds. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the famous number 3 of Dale Earnhardt has returned to the track and old fans are in an outrage.

NASCAR has kept their head down as they plugged forward with all of these changes. While they do listen to fan feedback, there’s no going back at this point to what some would call “the glory days” of NASCAR. Then over at Richard Childress Racing, they have gotten more grief than they should about running a “sacred” number once again.

All of this noise was going on, but it was silenced late Sunday night. That is when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. crossed the finish line first and won the 2014 Daytona 500.

With the victory, Earnhardt is a near sure thing for making the Chase this season. For all the press Austin Dillon got for driving his father’s stylized number 3, Earnhardt will get even more for winning the biggest event on the NASCAR calendar.

The talk will now shift for fans away from how silly this playoff Chase is to “can you believe Earnhardt is already in it!?” He’ll be the big topic once again and with the win has confidence on his side. If Earnhardt can stay competitive and actually pull of his first title, I’m sure none of the complaints we heard at the beginning of the season will matter for most fans.

This is exactly the sort of distraction NASCAR needed from its loyal fan base. It might also win a lot of them over knowing that it was just that easy (well not in reality) for their favorite driver to now make the Chase.

What Can We Learn From The Budweiser Duels?

NSCS_Budweiser_Duel2_Bowyer_022014

Last night’s Budweiser Duels provided an interesting insight into what we can expect in Sunday’s Daytona 500. With most of the early practices gear towards single car qualifying, it wasn’t until the Sprint Unlimited where we saw how the racing could be with this new package on the Daytona International Speedway.

Results there were of a wreckfest, with nearly have the field eliminated in accidents because cars were unstable and drivers were unused to the closing rates. Wednesday during practice we had a similar situation which saw more cars destroyed, and drivers opted not to practice much in the night time session.

What we saw in the Budweiser Duels was a lot different and should translate into the Daytona 500. Drivers raced side by side, but did so with caution they did not have prior. Whether this was because teams couldn’t afford to wreck any more cars or drivers got acclimated to the new package has yet to be seen. The first race went caution free and the second nearly went caution free, and that caution was due to Jimmie Johnson running out of fuel, not errors by any drivers.

Something that is a bit disturbing, from a fan’s perspective, is that there was very little movement in the top-5 during the final six laps of each race. The first Duel saw the same drivers who were first through fifth with six to go cross the finish line the same way to end the race. Second place Kevin Harvick was disqualified as his car fail post-race inspection, which throws this example off on paper.

In the second Duel, it was shaping up to finish the same way until Johnson ran out of fuel. That jumbled the order up, but the same drivers who were first, second, and third with six laps to go crossed the finish line as the top three drivers. Only Jeff Gordon managed to get past Kurt Busch for second place when it was all said and done.

Each race featured minimal lead changes (eight total between the two races) with five drivers leading 96.67% of the total laps run last night. The others who led did so because of pit stops or because they started on the front row.

Another indicator that drivers were happy riding last night is the average position of each driver. In the first race, the top four finishing drivers had the top four best average positions (minus Harvick, who had he finished second would have made it five for five). Kenseth and Earnhardt average a running position of fourth place (along with Harvick), Marcos Ambrose averaged a fifth place position and Kasey Kahne averaged a seventh place position.

The second race has nearly the same result with Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Kurt Busch among the best average running positions with seventh, third, and fourth respectfully. With the accident at the end it did drop drivers like Jamie McMurray (averaged eighth), Casey Mears (averaged eighth), and Carl Edwards (averaged sixth).

On the flip side, drivers who were out back didn’t really gain much by the race’s conclusion. The bottom three finishers in the first race had the worst three average running positions (excluding Harvick). In the second race, the fourth worst running drivers were aided by Brad Keselowski’s problems and Ryan Truex and Justin Allgaier were able to get past Michael Annett by the finish, who had a better average running position than both of them. This is a moot point for Truex, who missed the Daytona 500, whereas Allgaier and Annett both made it.

Passing as always will be critical and one thing did jump out at me when looking over the box score. Factoring in that each race only featured 24 drivers, there was a good number of drivers who were in the 90% of quality passes. Quality passes is a stat NASCAR keeps track of for every time a driver makes a pass of a car for position who’s running in the top-15. Marcos Ambrose led the way with 64 of his 64 passes being quality passes for a 100% mark. Others who rated high include: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (96.3%), Brad Keselowski (92.9%), AJ Allmendinger (92.8%), Kurt Busch (91.9%), and Jimmie Johnson (90.6%).

I didn’t like that Earnhardt tried to go with Ryan Newman to the front in the closing laps of the first race, but Newman passed on the invitation citing it was too early and the bottom of the track wasn’t good for a run. I hope we see some racing near the end instead of just a single file line to the finish.

My theory is that during the Daytona 500 most drivers will be happy to ride single file if they can for as long as they can. There will be the traditional jockeying for position around mid-pack, but once someone gets to the lead they will try to stay there. This might mirror last year’s race, when Matt Kenseth put his Toyota on cruise control for much of the race until his engine expired. As the second race showed, when it comes to the end of the race, anything can happen and probably will.

Even if drivers want to stay single file, someone is going to try a move to position themselves to potentially win the Daytona 500. Not only would they gain the accolades of winning the Super Bowl of stock car racing,  the win could secure them into the Chase for the Sprint Cup after one race.

With the stakes that much higher we might see more moves than we did Thursday night when they were racing for starting position and not a points paying victory. The action gets underway at 1 PM EST and can be seen on FOX.

No Need To Panic Over Earnhardt’s 2015 Crew Chief

Dale_Earnhardt_Jr_14_Daytona

As the NASCAR world learned that Steve Letarte would not return as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2015 there was a panic sent through the fan base. Most fans threw their hands up in the air over the revelation. They began to not only chalk up 2015 as a loss, but throwing in there 2014, despite Letarte still being here for that year. This year is not a loss and neither is 2015.

The biggest difference in this whole situation is Letarte is leaving for a job with NBC to be on the broadcast team. He’s not leaving for another organization and isn’t being forced to another team because of a team shake up.

That concept is not lost on Earnhardt, who will stay out of the decision process, Earnhardt does have a hope for owner Rick Hendrick. “I would love to have input from Chad Knaus (crew chief for Jimmie Johnson)and Steve.  I think that Steve knows what makes this teamwork.  Steve knows how I can be successful and how the individuals within the team can be successful.  I think he’d be a good guy to sort of pick at and hope that Doug and Rick would include him in that conversation at times,” suggested Earnhardt when talking to the media Friday morning at the Daytona International Speedway.

I fully believe that is exactly what will happen when they begin their search for the next crew chief. Hendrick is too smart of a businessman not to use all the resources at his disposal, which includes the current crew chief and crew chief of his 6-time champion team.

One thing is certain, don’t expect a former crew chief of Earnhardt’s to pop back up. Despite admitting that he now knows how to talk to a crew chief versus early in his career, Tony Eury, Jr.’s name can be taken off the list. There is no way I could see Hendrick bringing him back nor would Earnhardt want to go down that path again.

The focus should be on the 2014 season, which hasn’t even started yet, not 2015. That will come at a much later time. And for those who think this lame duck season will affect both Earnhardt and Letarte, think again. Earnhardt stated that he’s known about the change since the Charlotte race last October. They still went out and almost won some races after that fact.