Changes to NASCAR for the 2014 Racing Season
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
Well, folks, here it is! It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Okay, okay, maybe second only to Christmas, but NASCAR is back!! I am just so stoked that we finally get to see these guys back on the track. Of course, NASCAR officials made some huge changes during the off-season, just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock. The biggest change is the Chase format. For some reason, NASCAR big-wigs decided that they needed to fix something that wasn’t broken. That is my own humble opinion. I am sure that Brian France would care to disagree. Either way, the way that it is going to work is more like a grid system. Ultimately, there are 4 different rounds. The first round is the Challenger Round. This round begins at Chicagoland and ends with Dover. The second round, the Contender Round, begins at Kansas and ends at Talladega. The third round is the Eliminator Round and starts with Martinsville and ends with Phoenix. The final round is the Sprint Cup Championship, where the final 4 drivers will compete for the Cup. The way that it works is that 16 drivers start the Chase. For each of the first 3 rounds, 4 drivers are eliminated each round. Drivers can move to the next round automatically by winning a race during that round. If they do not win, drivers advance based on points. At the beginning of each new round, the points are reset. The final round will crown the champion by the highest ranking driver among the four drivers competing in the Sprint Cup Championship round at Homestead.
The change was apparently influenced by fans, who wanted to see more competition according to NASCAR. Honestly, I thought that last season was one of the best and most competitive seasons that we’ve seen in a very long time. I don’t quite understand why we have such a drastic change in the structure, but I guess we will all have to sit back and see how this works this year.
One of the other big changes is the qualifying format. Although NASCAR flatly denies it, the qualifying is moving towards a very IRL-looking setup. Here’s how it works. For tracks that are greater than 1.25 miles, there is an opening 25 minute segment. From that point, the 24 fastest cars will move to a second 10 minute segment. Finally, there is a 5 minute segment for the fastest 12 drivers from the previous segment. Tracks that are less than 1.25 miles and also road courses will fall under slightly different rules. There is a 2 part process to qualifying where there is a 30 minute first-round and a 10 minute second round with a 10 minute break in between. NASCAR also announced that adjustments made be made to vehicles during every round at all tracks while vehicles are on the track as well as during breaks. The exception to this rule is at Daytona and Talladega.
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As you can see, NASCAR has made some major adjustments between group qualifying and a grid format for the Chase. These changes don’t even begin to compare to the changes in the garage between drivers and teams though. The biggest change is probably Kevin Harvick moving to Stewart-Haas racing. Additionally, Kurt Busch was signed to Stewart-Haas Racing, despite a little bit of dirty dealing by Haas. Ryan Newman has moved into Jeff Burton’s old ride as the new driver of the #31 RCR CAT ride. Then there’s Martin Truex Jr. He was an unfortunate casualty of the whole MWR/Clint Bowyer “arm-itching” scandal last year. He has a new ride, taking over Busch’s #78 Furniture Row car. Another big change is the exit of Juan Pablo Montoya. Kyle Larson is taking over the #42 of Ganassi, hopefully with better luck to earn a win on an oval! Brian Vickers is back fulltime, driving the #55 for MWR. The #66 is going to be driven by Waltrip, Burton and Nemechek for MWR. There are other changes, but those are the most significant to note.
On top of the team changes, we also have a whole list of Rookie of the Year contenders this year. With a field of at least 8 new rookies running fulltime, there is sure to be a little more excitement than Danica and Stenhouse Jr. when it comes to ROTY contenders (no disrespect to the 2013 drivers!). The guys competing this year include Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Parker Kligerman, Kyle Larson, Ryan Truex and Cole Whitt. I don’t know about you, but I follow the other racing series under Sprint Cup quite a bit and the majority of these guys are very very good in their own right. I really think that the rookie field is going to be something for every driver to contend with this year. It’s going to make for some good racing. Austin Dillon does, after all, already have the pole for the Daytona 500!
Now that you have the major changes down pat, head on over to my preview for the big race this Sunday afternoon! Here’s to a great season of racin’ guys and gals!