Quick pop quiz: What happens tomorrow, January 7th, that should captivate the sports world? No, I'm not talking about the mythical national championship game between LSU and Ohio State. I'm talking about the beginning of "Preseason Thunder" down at Daytona, as NASCAR gets ready to crank out a new season.
No offseason in any sport, besides perhaps golf, is as short as the one NASCAR drivers and teams get—and no season, again, besides golf, is as long and grueling as the one teams on the Nextel Sprint Cup Series face. The grind begins tomorrow afternoon, with roughly half of the teams that plan to field a car in the Daytona 500 taking to the track for the first time this winter in preparation for the 50th running of The Great American Race.
Preseason testing usually doesn't tell you much about the upcoming season; it's really only a gauge for who you can expect to contend for the pole for the Daytona 500. With qualifying and race trim so drastically different at Daytona, it doesn't do a lot usually to tell you who is going to contend for the victory in the race either. There are of course the drafting sessions to give you an idea—but even then, if you don't actually watch the testing session and rely instead solely on a speed chart, you can't tell a whole lot.
What the testing does do is give fans a good tease, as it tantalizes them with the roar of engines and the sights of the machines on the track. It also gives teams a chance to work out some of the rust from the offseason. Most importantly, it gives teams who experienced change in the offseason—and boy were there a lot of them—a chance to work together and start developing chemistry, which is crucial in this sport.
So, okay, maybe my first paragraph was a slight exaggeration...but that doesn't diminish the excitement and anticipation with which NASCAR fans await each new season. There are plenty of storylines to follow this year, which I'll touch on more as things progress. The big news, for now, is that it's time to see cars on the track—and they will be tomorrow afternoon down at the World Center of Racing. It's about time.