10 Biggest Storylines of the NASCAR Offseason
The 2012 season for the top series of NASCAR has come to an end. It is but a blip in time before the new season begins with much to be done to bring improvements to the product offered to fans of the sport.
NASCAR has the daunting task of bringing a new car online, enhancing the fan experience and raising the level of interest in a sport that has faced deterioration in recent years.
A great deal of work has been going on behind the scenes during 2012 that will become evident as we head to Preseason Thunder and Speedweeks at Daytona.
The sanctioning body, owners, drivers, teams and major automakers have worked together testing the cars that are supposed to make racing more exciting.
Much is at stake in the high-dollar sport of NASCAR. This slideshow will highlight some of the biggest storylines fans will be hearing about in the offseason and beyond.
1. What Will the New Sprint Cup Champion Do for the Sport?
Fans have longed for more personality with their drivers and this time they got a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion that is definitely a refreshing change.
Brad Keselowski, 28, is from a blue-collar racing family and knows just how hard making it to the top is. Now he has made it with Penske Racing in only his third full season at the Cup level.
Keselowski is brash, outspoken and smart. He doesn't back down from expressing his opinion on most anything. He is a pro with social media and his following of some 340,000 or more on Twitter.
This is a driver who should reel in some of the 18- to 34-year-old demographic that NASCAR is longing to hook as fans.
Keselowski should represent the sport well and inspire younger drivers to pursue their dreams as he did.
The driver of the Blue Deuce is the darling at Penske Racing now, but the organization faces changes with the move to Ford.
It should be fun to follow Keselowski in 2013 and see how the champion performs during the preseason and into the Chase, if he makes it—and he probably will.
2. NASCAR's Newest Car
NASCAR is moving to a new model race car known as the "G6" for sixth generation. It will officially debut at Daytona with the Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry.
The much unloved COT from 2007 will be a thing of the past in the Sprint Cup series. The new car is supposed to correct the biggest issues with the COT used through the 2012 season.
The G6 cars are sleeker, more stylish and less aero-dependent. The goal is to put more control of the car back in the driver's hands. They are supposed to allow tighter racing, which results in more action.
The cars will also have more of the look fans might see at their local dealership. In the past, it was the brand that won on Sunday would sell on Monday. It remains to be seen if fans show that kind of loyalty.
Despite the extensive testing and tweaking to the cars, you can be sure that drivers will have some kind of issues with the new product once the season gets underway.
The G6 racecar is supposed to sport brand identity and it will, but as seen in the picture above, they really still look pretty much the same on the track.
We can only hope that NASCAR has gotten it right with this car, and that racing will indeed be better for the drivers and the fans.
3. Should NASCAR Have More Night Races?
The 54th running of the Daytona 500 was delayed by rain until the Monday evening following the scheduled starting time at noon on the previous day.
The race was run in primetime against major television shows, but the drama and spectacle of the "Great American Race" could not have been matched.
Saturday night racing is the backbone of local short track racing around the country. The sight of the sparkling, colorful cars under brilliant lighting adds to the racing excitement.
The races scheduled at night for the top-three series of NASCAR tend to be some of the most popular races on the schedules.
Perhaps it is time for NASCAR to take a look at running more night races, especially in the heat of summer. It just might make for a boost in attendance and viewership.
4. Should Chase Races Be Changed?
Chicagoland Speedway is the sight of the kickoff for the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
It is one of the five 1.5-mile intermediate tracks on the Chase schedule. Certainly, the intermediate tracks are sometimes favored by drivers who consistently perform well on them.
Could it be time to add a road-course race or perhaps see a Bristol night race on the agenda?
Logistics and scheduling must be done by all involved in each race far in advance of the event. NASCAR might consider a rotating schedule every two years.
All those intermediate tracks in the Chase tend to cause the fans to tune out a bit. It is far too easy to watch the last 50 laps on television, check the computer or follow social media for results.
Variety is the spice of life, so it is said, so maybe NASCAR needs to spice up the Chase race schedule.
5. The Racing Brian France Wants to See
Chairman of NASCAR Brian France has stated that NASCAR racing is a "contact" sport. He has encouraged the "Boys, have at it" concept as long as they don't cross the invisible line.
France is also touting the type of racing he expects to see with the new G6 car that will be raced during the 2013 season and beyond.
The NASCAR boss stated, "Fans like rivalries within the manufacturer group. Obviously the car manufacturers like more identification the better, and that's good for them."
France added, "If we can have a Trifecta where we can do all those things and then really put a rules package that I've said recently puts a lot more science than art to get closer, tighter competition, then we've got a home run package, and that's what we are planning to have."
Will we really see more competitive racing with drivers more in control of their cars? Is the brand identity deal going to really bring back fans rooting for Chevy vs. Ford? Will the Toyota contention rally behind the Camry?
The latest generation of NASCAR's racing product will be heralded during the offseason. We can only hope it is much more exciting than the COT was.
Quotes courtesy of official press release.
6. NASCAR Racing on Dirt
Racing on dirt is part of NASCAR racing history. There is a possibility that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series may run on a dirt track.
It may be a coincidence, but Tony Stewart is taking a hiatus from his Prelude to the Dream Charity Race in 2013 at his Eldora Speedway, a half-mile dirt racing facility.
"It's part of our history at a high level. It still is at the weekly level. And that hasn't been completely worked out, but that's a possibility. That would put a unique twist on the Truck Series if it is able to be worked out."
That is what NASCAR chairman Brian France had to say about the issue at a recent press conference, so it certainly appears to be within the realm of possibility.
Quotes courtesy of official press release.
7. The Fan Experience and Social Media
Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski leads the charge with Twitter and a following of more than 340,000.
Social media is important to NASCAR and they encourage drivers to interact with fans via Twitter as long as they don't criticize the sanctioning body.
NASCAR now owns NASCAR.com, so we can expect an expanded fan experience through that site.
The digital age is an opportunity to bring in younger fans who don't sit in front of the television for three hours or more to watch a race.
Drivers will be encouraged to interact with fans, and NASCAR will take every advantage of the star power of certain drivers as well as promoting drivers in a positive light whenever possible.
8. Who Is Driving the Car?
Fans have grown used to seeing the driver's name above the window of their racecar, but that is changing in 2013.
The front and rear of the car will see a reduction of decals that tend to clutter the looks of the car.
Sponsors pay the bills in the sport of NASCAR and now the paint schemes and sponsor decals will follow new rules that allow sponsorship on the roof of the car.
The ever-changing colors and sponsors can sometimes be confusing, especially to the casual fan who is not really sure of which driver is in what car number.
For 2013, the drivers in the Sprint Cup series will have their last name on the top of the windshield of their car. For Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch, will we see Busch 1 and Busch 2?
9. What Can We Expect from Penske Racing?
Brad Keselowski finally brought his boss Roger Penske his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title in 2012.
Penske Racing is riding high after such a strong season with the Blue Deuce Dodge, but in 2013 the operation switches to Fords.
The final race of the season saw Dodge run its last Cup race at least for the coming year. Penske Racing did not have an engine failure all season.
There will be considerable support out of Ford for not only Penske Racing, but also Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and all the other Ford teams.
Joey Logano is moving to Penske as the driver of the No. 22 Ford. He and Keselowski should be really good teammates who are able to share information and friendship.
Penske Racing is coming off a banner year, but there are a lot of variables that could change the kind of year they will see in 2013 during the switch to Ford.
10. Danica Patrick's Great Adventure
Danica Patrick was the media darling at the start of the 2012 season with her full-time move to NASCAR and 10-race stint in the Cup series.
By the end of 2012, Patrick was starting to blend in more as a driver even though several incidents put her in the spotlight. Media attention overall had tapered down.
Patrick finished 10th in the Nationwide point standings, which made her the highest-finishing female in NASCAR history. She was also voted the most popular driver in the Nationwide series.
Her foray into Cup racing ended on a much better note than it started. The 2013 season will see her race a full Cup season behind the wheel of the No. 10 Chevrolet out of Stewart Haas Racing.
Now Patrick has announced she is divorcing her husband of seven years, Paul Hospenthal.
Patrick retains her celebrity status and once she is divorced, media will follow who she is seen with and possibly dating.
Her racing in the Cup series is for real now, so that too will fuel additional media attention. She will be critiqued at every turn.
Those who are not fans of Patrick will be hot about the attention she garners for no apparent reason. Those who are fans of Patrick will once again see lots of commentary about their driver.
NASCAR needs Patrick and the star power she brings.