I think I’m more excited about the 2010 NASCAR season than I have been for any other season since Nextel came aboard.
NASCAR has announced several new rule changes, new teams are appearing, and new team combinations all came about through the winter that should add up to one doozie of a season in 2010.
So, here’s what has me most excited in the upcoming season:
You know, I’ve been a Michael Waltrip fan for years. I was excited when his seemingly ill-fated team began to turn around in 2009, save for Waltrip himself.
When Reutimann and Ambrose were running in the top-15 and Waltrip was in the 30’s, it was sad to watch. When part-time self-funded rookie Dexter Bean was turning faster practice laps than Waltrip at one race, you knew something was up.
Waltrip said he would hang up his helmet in 2010 if he didn’t perform better in 2009. By midseason, he realized he would need to hire a replacement.
That replacement came in the form of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. this summer. By the end of the season, Penske’s top crew chief Pat Tryson decided to move to MWR as well. In 2010, Truex and Tryson will be paired together.
If MWR continues to climp up the slope, look for some big things from the NAPA Toyota.
2. Denny Hamlin
Despite the recent news that Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, tore his ACL playing basketball, he is regarded by many as the driver with the best shot at interrupting Jimmie Johnson’s drive toward a fifth straight championship.
Hamlin has the right equipment, and things certainly seem to be clicking with crew chief Mike Ford. They handily made the Chase, and they were in contention to win many of the Chase races.
The reason Hamlin isn’t the 2009 champion might just be because Johnson somehow figured out how do divert all of the crappy stuff that might happen to him over to Hamlin.
If not for three DNF’s caused by just rotten luck in the 2009 Chase, his stats beat Jimmie Johnson.
So, if Hamlin’s knee holds up and he can figure out how to avoid all that freaky crap, Hamlin has a fair shot at winning the 2010 championship.
3. The Ford teams
In 2009, Ford had one of its worst years ever. With only seven cars (Roush-Fenway’s five and Yates’ two, and occasionally, the Wood Brothers’ single entry), they won the first two races of the season with Matt Kenseth, but then went winless until Talladega in October, much to the ire of those involved in the “We race, you win” sweepstakes, where Ford gave away a 2010 Fusion every time a Ford driver won a Cup race.
In 2010, Ford has Roush, the Wood Brothers, the newly converted Richard Petty Motorsports, and the newly Ford-backed Front Row Motorsports.
What separates the Ford teams from the Chevrolet teams, however, is the way these Ford Teams are working together.
Roush-Fenway seems almost like the central clearing house for data: Petty, Front Row, and Wood Brothers all get Roush chassis support, and will all feed data into that system as well. On top of that, all these Ford teams will be running Roush-Yates engines.
Speaking of engines, Ford is beginning to introduce a new engine in 2010 as well. The new FR9 engine is Ford’s first purpose-built NASCAR engine, and is a badly needed update to their old design.
At times last year, it seemed as though the Ford cars were handling as well, if not better, than many other teams in the turns, but got killed on the straights with their old engine.
When the FR9 is fully rolled out, expect the Ford teams to be serious challengers once again.
4. NASCAR’s loose approach
Finally, NASCAR has begun to loosen up on the drivers. No longer are they restricted from bump-drafting in the turns at Daytona and Talladega, no longer will they be penalized for a little rough-housing.
NASCAR is finally letting the drivers go back to bumping and grinding, the way NASCAR started, and the way NASCAR is meant to be.
These are four reasons why the 2010 NASCAR season has me more excited than ever. We're within spitting distance of Daytona now…
What are you excited about?