Friday, January 29, 2010

Bump-Drafting Into the New Year

Welcome, NASCAR fans, to the final weekend without NASCAR racing. Even that is only half true because there are several NASCAR drivers competing in the 24 hour race at Daytona this weekend. With that said, Speedweeks will begin soon and before you know it there will be plenty of NASCAR action on one of the greatest tracks on the circuit.

Last week, NASCAR made their highly-anticipated announcements regarding rule changes for the upcoming season. There will be larger restrictor plates on the cars at Daytona, which will likely give the drivers better throttle response. However, the big change (and it was really only outlawed for one race) is that bump-drafting will once again be allowed.

This sets up an interesting situation once cars actually get on the track Thursday for Bud Shootout practice. Every year we hear drivers come in after the first couple of practices and complain about all the bump-drafting that is going on around the track. The drivers have complained for years about this issue, and then for one race NASCAR actually does something about it and everyone hates it even more.

A few examples:

Tony Stewart, speaking about bump-drafting before the 2006 Daytona 500; “Five years from now, we’re probably going to have to do another tribute to another driver because we’re probably going to kill somebody. It could be me. It could be Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. It could be anybody out there… We’re going to do what it takes to win the race. It needs to come from NASCAR.”

Carl Edwards, on bump-drafting after the 2009 Aaron’s 499 in which he sailed into the fence on the final lap, “We’ll race like this until we kill somebody; then NASCAR will change it.”

This type of talk has gone on for years, but once NASCAR did change it, the drivers were singing a much different tune.

“It’s kind of like the NFL going from tackle to two-hand touch,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., after the Amp Energy 500 at Talladega last fall.

“It was just kind of a terrible race today in general,” said David Ragan, also following the fall race at Talladega.

So drivers begged for NASCAR to clamp down on bump-drafting and they did, but then everybody really had problems with what NASCAR had done. It looks as if NASCAR is in a no-win situation. You can bet at some point during Speedweeks 2010 there will be a driver stepping out of his car furious with all of the bump-drafting in the corners that is going on. That’s just how drivers are. However, I think most of us learned our lesson when we saw what would happen if NASCAR really did police bump-drafting.

Aside from all of that, I can’t help but be excited when Speedweeks is just around the corner. These two weeks are some of the best of the entire season. There will be large packs, fast speeds, big wrecks, and several surprises along the way. Each year there seems to be one small-time team that steps up and has a very good Speedweeks and maybe even a few decent weeks to follow before fading back. Those stories are what make this time of year the best of each NASCAR season.

However, before Speedweeks can begin, we need to know exactly how the field is set for the Great American Race. Enjoy the cartoon and have a great Speedweeks! The Monday Morning Crew Chief ratings will return the Tuesday following the Bud Shootout.

Monday, January 11, 2010

NASCAR May Fix Problems in 2010

After completing a season that ended with many fans upset about the racing, driver personalities, and just about anything else related to the sport, NASCAR has been surprisingly quiet during the offseason. Before going any further, let’s take a look at some of the issues many fans had problems with in 2009 and what NASCAR may do about these problems this coming year.

First, people still don’t like the COT. After three years, very few in the NASCAR world were able to warm up to the flat rate box that is the Car of Tomorrow. The two most noticeable features on the new car have been the front splitter and the rear wing. After drivers eternally complained about not being able to pass after getting up behind a car because of an “aero push”, NASCAR built a car that would have no such problem, but in the process created a whole new set of problems. Now people think the old car may not have been so bad after all. Rarely do drivers complain about the car in the Nationwide series like they did when the same model ran in the Cup series. So, in the coming weeks NASCAR will likely make an announcement regarding changes to the COT, with a return to the rear spoiler at the top of the list.

The next complaint was heard loud and clear for four weeks last season, and the rest of the time it was grumbled about. That would be the racing at Daytona and Talladega. In each restrictor plate race last season there was a big wreck that involved popular drivers and brought up the never-ending safety concern. In the weeks that followed each race ideas and opinions were thrown around everywhere, ranging from taking off the restrictor plates to flattening the corners. So now the idea being tossed about involves, once again, undoing something that was implemented years ago to try and makes those tracks safer. That would be to remove the yellow line rule that forces drivers to stay on the track regardless if there is room in the pack. While I would like to see this change made for the entire race, it looks like this will only go into affect on the final lap, which still is a move in the right direction. Should Regan Smith get his win back now? I’m just saying.

Also, the bump drafting rule enforced at the beginning of the fall race at Talladega may disappear. That race was highly anticipated by many race fans. After enduring weeks of Jimmie Johnson dominance, fans were looking forward to large packs of cars throughout the race where any driver could come away with the victory. While the race did have “the big one” and an unexpected winner in Jamie McMurray, much of the race was filled with single-file racing around the top up the track because the drivers were instructed not to touch the car in front of them.

Finally, many fans were upset that the races were starting later and later, or they couldn’t find the actual start time of the race. NASCAR took care of that one during the second half of the 2009 season by announcing that all the races will have a uniform start time. 1 p.m. ET, 3: p.m. ET for the west coast races, and 7:30 p.m. ET for night races. It will be nice to see the Daytona 500 end in daylight.

So, after looking through the list of complaints, it looks as though maybe NASCAR really is trying to tailor the sport to those who watch and follow it on a weekly basis. There have been many times over the past decade where I’ve thought NASCAR (and many other sports for that matter) was just into making money and was a puppet to the television companies. While we will have to wait and see what changes are actually announced on January 21st during the NASCAR Media Tour, all signs point towards a sport that will be moving in the correct direction for a change.

As you probably know, my biggest problem with the sport is the debris cautions. I have watched several old races this offseason and saw two cautions for oil on the track. Otherwise, the yellow was not thrown unless there was an actual incident on the track. I can understand NASCAR staying quiet on this issue because they would rather not admit that those cautions are bogus, but I certainly hope to see less “debris” cautions in 2010. With everything else heading the right way, it would be a shame for this issue to remain a thorn in the NASCAR fan’s side. Regardless, there are more reasons to be optimistic about the 2010 season than there have been in seasons past.