The 2014 NASCAR season is just days away.
For fans, this is the toughest time of the year.
You may be staring out at six to nine inches of snow, and the thought of warm breezes, clear blue skies and the sound of stock cars speeding around the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway is tantalizing.
I don’t know about you, but my memories from the season finale in Homestead last November are long gone.
Now, you might be a real diehard fan and you DVR all the races, so when you’re jonesing for some NASCAR, you can conveniently dial up any race weekend you like.
I’m thinking that most of us don’t DVR the races, so NASCAR’s winter break has left us wanting real action.
If you’re like me, you’ve read and watched just about everything you can—every preview and prognostication about the upcoming NASCAR season from every driver, (nearly every) crew chief and (definitely) every sportswriter.
So far, here’s what I’ve learned:
Everybody knows what Denny Hamlin needs to do to bounce back and be a contender again. Hopefully, he does, too.
According to Tony Stewart, we shouldn't be concerned about whether or not his leg has healed to the point of it not bothering him in the race car. That means we should be concerned.
Carl Edwards believes that he can win the championship He says that every year around this time. I’m beginning to question if he can do it while driving for Roush Fenway. Case in point—look at how quickly Matt Kenseth’s career changed once he left RFR for Joe Gibbs Racing.
I also question why Greg Biffle, who has won both a truck and a Nationwide championship and makes the Chase field just about every season, still hasn’t been able to close the deal.
NASCAR has changed the rules for the Chase to make it just a teeny bit more difficult for Mr. Six Time and Chad Knaus to win their seventh title. If you think these new rules make a difference to this team, they won’t. Johnson is one of the greatest the sport has ever seen. Knaus equally so.
The new Chase format does make it a bit easier to win the championship if you have a Jr. suffix to your name.
If you’re an underfunded and under-engineered team with a driver of questionable talents, this new Chase format gives you a an equal chance to make the Chase. Yeah, sure it does!
The new Gen 6 car is bad ass and scary fast!
Now, let’s turn the attention to you, NASCAR fan.
It’s time to take another good look at that honey-do list you’ve had laying around all winter. Don’t let panic set in when you realize you’ve not done anything on it.
There’s still a week or so to get things done before every Sunday (and some Saturday nights) from mid-February to mid-November find you obsessed with speed and parked in front of your big screen TV.
But, before you tackle that list:
It’s time to order a new shirt from your favorite driver, especially if he’s changed teams. If you’re the superstitious type and your driver had a good season in ’13, then it’s OK to keep last year’s shirt. But nothing makes you feel better for the new season than a nice new shirt. And don’t forget to get a shirt for that special someone in your life, even if he or she prefers to support a driver you don’t like. Hey guys, Valentine’s Day is the day before the Sprint Unlimited.
If you haven’t finished your Fantasy League lineup, now is the time to get it done. I’m not sure about Kurt Busch at Stewart Haas or Ryan Newman at RCR. Big changes for both this season. It usually takes time for old dogs to learn new tricks. Be careful putting either one of these drivers on your team.
For Dale Jr. fans only: Stop being bummed that Junior is losing his crew chief after this season. If you know Steve Letarte, you know he’s the kind of guy that wants to go out on top. So, remember to thank a Guardsman when you see him or her, get a six pack of whatever Mountain Dew flavor you like and be prepared to cheer on Junior when he makes it to the final-four race in Homestead in November. Really. It is going to happen. Trust me on this.
Start thinking of your reasons for ending the new diet you started at the beginning of the year so when your wife or husband hassles you for eating an entire bag of Doritos before the middle of the Daytona 500 (you gotta have something to munch on while you're enjoying your favorite beverage), you’ve got an answer ready to go.
Be sure you’ve got Bleacher Report bookmarked on your computer and you’ve downloaded the app for your tablet or smartphone. You need to stay on top of what’s going on, and more importantly, know why it happened.
Finally, I know you’re staring at the date circled on your calendar, February 15. That’s the day of the Sprint Unlimited—the official start to the 2014 NASCAR.
For years, the race was called the Bud Shootout. Then it became just the Shootout, and now series sponsor Sprint has the title rights and it's become the Sprint Unlimited.
I’ll probably still call it the Bud Shootout for a while. Old habits hang around for a while like when I called it the “Winston Cup Series” long after Sprint became the title sponsor.
When Sprint took over the title rights for the season opener, they said something to the effect of “Let’s have the fans vote on who gets into the race.”
If you haven’t voted yet, you should. The race is going to be ridiculous. Teams build a car just for this race and so they don’t worry if it gets a bit scratched up, if you know what I mean.
Get going. Grab that list of things to do and stay focused.
Racing is just around the corner.