Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Predictions: Top 6 biggest NASCAR storylines to watch in 2011.

Welcome readers, with the 2011 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona already in the record books and the Great American race, the Daytona 500 coming up this Sunday, today I want to talk about the 2011 NASCAR season, namely predictions. So now between Sunday’s Daytona 500, I will be introducing a four-part 2011 NASCAR predictions series.

Today, in this first edition of my four-part series, I will be focusing on “what are the top 6 biggest NASCAR storylines to watch in 2011?” Now please note that this edition will focus on NASCAR changes and not teams, drivers and beyond as I will be writing on those subjects separately. With that said, here we go.

1. The new NASCAR points system: In the biggest change of the offseason, NASCAR decided to make some much needed changes to the NASCAR points system by introducing a 1 point per position type of points system. Basically if a driver wins the race, he can collect as much as 48 points which includes 43 points for winning, 3 points for a victory, 1 point for leading a lap and 1 point for leading the most laps. Typically, a driver who only leads the last lap and wins the race will collect 47 points for the victory.

That means that 2nd place will get 42 points, 3rd will get 41 points and so on down to 43rd place getting a simple point just for starting the race.

In looking at the new points system, I believe that this change isn’t just cosmetic as some media are putting it, but rather a real change and improvement. I also believe that this new points system will be easier to explain and understand for the fans, drivers, teams, media and more. (Read more on my opinion here)

2. Failure to address “Boy’s, Have at it”: One of the biggest turn off’s in 2010 for me had to be some of the drivers taking advantage of the new “Boy’s, Have at it” policy by retaliating or taking out another competitor. And even more, NASCAR didn’t do a damn thing about it neither. A classic example would be Carl Edwards taking out Brad Keselowski at Atlanta last Spring, or how about Kurt Busch taking out Jeff Gordon at the fall Martinsville race or Carl Edwards taking out Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide Series race at Gateway which caused a giant mess.

The point is while NASCAR has some success with “Boy’s, Have at it” in 2010, in 2011 they needed to set limits and create real simple rules. Right now, NASCAR seems to want to be like the NFL, if so, they might want to try some actual rules. But right before the 2011 Daytona 500, NASCAR is “letting the inmates run the asylum” and that’s dangerous. Someone is going to get hurt sooner or later. (Read more)

3. Evolution of the NASCAR Cup Series COT namely the new front nose: A more welcome change has to be removing the front splitter braces on the COT nose and replacing it with a solid mold piece like a body kit on a car. This move is better for design, look and function, especially if NASCAR is trying to get the COT cars to look more like the showroom models. Personally I like it, its just like changing from the rear wing to the spoiler, its makes for better racing and pleases most fans.

4. The new NASCAR Nationwide Series COT: NASCAR talks about change and safety, the new Nationwide Series COT does both of them. In the safety aspect, its simple, better green house (cage) around the drivers and removes the need for specialty cars like a superspeedway car and a road course car, namely cost.

But the change also creates better racing on-track. In watching the 4 races in 2010 that NASCAR ran this car, they were actually better races to watch as it also created a temporary even playing field. One team will figure out this new car and really be able to win with it, but for at least the first 4 races, its actually anybodies game.

And most of all, the new Nationwide COT brings the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger into the series and they look as close to a showroom model as NASCAR will most likely get. Now I just wonder about overall cost, Nationwide teams don’t have the funding that Cup Series teams do. (Read more)

5. Self venting gas can, no catch can man: Removing a pit crew member from pit road is a good move for safety reasons. You figure that we have 43 cars in each race in both the Nationwide and Cup Series races. So each team has 7 pit crew members, that’s 301 pit crew members going over the wall for each pit stop. But with the new self-venting gas can, teams now can subtract 43 pit crew members from pit road that brings 258 crew members. Now that might sound small, but that’s one less person for a team to worry about on pit road and less congested.

But I will be interested in seeing how long it takes to fill up a 17.75 gallon fuel cell of racing fuel? And what will be the pit strategy be?

6. E15 fuel (15% ethanol and 85% gasoline): As if introducing a new self-venting gas can wasn’t enough, NASCAR racecars look to have less fuel economy as well with the introduction of E15 racing fuel.

Personally I don’t care for this change, it’s actually doesn’t go far enough. Right now, passenger cars run on E10 and maybe E15 in a few years as our gasoline. But while that is ok for us, it’s not good for NASCAR. They need to have done more, like fuel injection (coming in 2012), E85 or 100% ethanol or even bio-diesel fuel. There is no reason why NASCAR or racing in general should be running gasoline, they need to go with bio-diesel or another alternative fuel. Its time for a change and while NASCAR has changed, it’s a small one.

Finally, as I sit here watching practice on TV and seeing both the Nationwide Series and Cup Series on-track, I’m for the part excited about the new season and for many of the reasons that I stated above including the new points system. However I still do have question marks for 2011 and while I will talk about the championship, wild card drivers and more in other edition, overall 2011 should be a good year. Now let’s just hope that NASCAR continues to evolve with the times and the on-track action especially “Boy’s, Have at it”.