We are in the final stretch of the lay-off between Homestead and Daytona.
As I write this article there are 36 days, four hours and 30 minutes until the cars hit the track at Daytona International Speedway for the 2009 Budweiser Shootout.
Sure, this isn't going to be the same shootout us fans are used to seeing, but it promises to be an exciting day when we can see—well some of us can see—our favorite drivers back behind the wheel. Some of you will have to add a couple days onto that total for when the cars take the field for the Duals.
Anyway, since it's a tough time to be a NASCAR writer, I decided to come up with a way to show the non-NASCAR fan how to become a fan in 30 days.
Days 1-3: These are the crucial days to becoming a NASCAR fan. During these days, you need to sit down and watch some NASCAR races from the past seasons. Try out a couple different ones, watch a restrictor-plate race, catch a short-track feature at Bristol and don't forget to throw in a road-course race to "mix things up a bit."
During these first three days, you need to watch the races carefully and really focus on who you want to be your driver. Watch how each driver performs on each track, as well as how they interview after the races. [Editor's note: Don't be scared when you have a hard time understanding the terms they use, you begin learning this in days 8-11.] Some will do better on restrictor-plate tracks, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Others will dominate at the 1.5 mile tracks, such as Carl Edwards. While some will stand above the crowd at the road course races, most notably Robby Gordon. By the end of day three you should have your favorite driver down to five.
Tip of the day: 43 drivers start each race.
Days 4-7: Another crucial part of becoming a NASCAR fan is to pick a favorite driver. Don't worry, you don't have to do so yet. During these three days, you should take your top-5 drivers you selected and begin to watch and read about them specifically. Go to the teams' Web site and read about how they've performed. Type their names into Google and find out what kind of news they made lately. Some people pick a driver solely on track performance. You don't want to do that, if so you will probably be disappointed when they have a couple bad races—unless of course you select Jimmie Johnson and/or Carl Edwards, who always seem to run well.
The bottom line during these three days is that you want to get to know your drivers. Find out what they stand for, view the various charities they participate in and really dig deep into who they are and what they bring to the table. By the end of day seven you should eliminate one of your drivers.
Tip of the day: The top-35 in owner's points are guaranteed a spot each weekend.
Days 8-11: The last three days might have been tough. It's never easy to drop someone off your list. During these three days you should watch even more races involving your favorite drivers. Also during these three days you are going to begin conditioning for the hours you will spend in front of your television on 36 Sundays in 2009. During day eight, you need to find at least one hour to sit non-stop in front of a television. You should focus especially on the commercials, as a NASCAR fan, you will see plenty of these during a five hour broadcast. It's also imperative during these first days of conditioning that you start building that groove into your couch. Trust me, this will come in handy when you reach the Daytona 500 and sit for nearly five hours for the first time.
Day nine is the first time you should start learning some of the lingo that goes along with being a NASCAR fan. Start off easy and learn about the various positions on a NASCAR team. The driver, simple to remember, but learn about the Crew Chief and the Car Chief and the Spotter. Take some time and learn about the over-the-wall crew. Each team has tire changers, tire carriers, jack-men, fuelers, catch-can men and someone to pull a window-tear off and clean the front grill. This is the foundation for your knowledge and you should know the positions before you start to understand other terms. By the end of day 11, chop another driver off your list. You should now have three drivers.
Tip of the day: During qualifying, the driver with the fastest time wins the "pole."
Days 12-15: Now is the time things start getting hard. You are down to three drivers, out of a potential 50+ drivers. During these three days, you need to take two hours a day and spend it in front of the television. This might still be OK if you are a regular to college football, basketball or the NFL. Things don't get tough here, yet. Where they do get tough is starting to learn the 'lingo" even more.
So during the first race you heard Dale Earnhardt Jr. tell his crew chief that he was getting an "aero push" off the back of Johnson's car and he thinks they need to adjust the "wedge" of the car by half a turn. You are sitting there going, "what the heck?' It's OK, don't get scared off yet, things will get easier the more you watch. For this week you should visit this site: NASCAR Glossary. Things are going to look hard at first, but take some time and read over the terms. You are only half-way through the 30 days, so you still have time to learn the terms before the season kicks off.
Tip of the day: Wedge refers to the relationship from corner-to-corner of the weight of the race vehicle.
Days 16-19: Take a break from the 'lingo' for these three days and really focus on your driver. By this point you need to have three drivers you want to choose from. It's OK to have secondary favorite drivers, but you need to have that one driver that is your absolute favorite. During these three days, things will get tough. As you weigh back and forth which driver offers what, you know that this is a big decision to make. That's why you have three days to eliminate one more driver. Don't worry about terms at all. Visit the driver's Web sites again and read more stories about them. Visit this site: NASCAR Drivers and take time to analyze the stats each has associated with them. Take into consideration years racing, number of teams they've been on and tracks they win at. If they have six wins, but have been in the league for 18 years and all six came at Martinsville Speedway, you may be disappointed 34 out of the 36 races a year. Also, take into consideration the number of years in the league. You don't want to select a driver that has been around for 15 years, unless you want to have to change in a couple years. Try and find a young one, someone that has 6-8 years under their belt. That range gives you someone who may have been a bit successful to date, but also has the potential to be around for years to come. By the end of day 19 you need to have only two drivers left.
Tip of the day: Jimmie Johnson has won the past three Sprint Cup Championships.
Days 20-23: OK, we are back to the conditioning and lingo again during these days, don't worry about your drivers, you only have two left and a whole week after these three days to sort that out. During these days you need to jump from two hours in front of the television to three and a half. I know it sounds like a big jump, but as was said before, if you are used to college football and/or NFL this should be no problem for you. Things will get tougher in the coming days, so enjoy it while it lasts. Go back and visit the site about NASCAR Glossary again. You have one day to review, day 20. On day 21, you need to visit a NASCAR site and find a message board to get involved on. Try some things out. Start talking about how well you thing Johnson will do in 2009. Don't be afraid to throw in some knowledge about last season. You should have reviewed this stuff and should be able to talk about the tire debacle at Indy and the bumping of Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch at Brisol. Don't be scared my friend, you have the wonderous world wide web to back up anything you say. I mean if it's on the Internet it's 100 percent true right? Anyway, during days 21-22 you need to get involved with other NASCAR fans. Remember, NASCAR fans are die-hard and passionate about their sport and their driver, so watch which toes you step on talking smack about Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr.
Tip of the day: The Daytona 500 is the opening race every season. It's also deemed to be one of the most prized races to win in a driver's career.
Days 24-27: The days are winding down. During these three days you need to spend at least four and a half hours in front of your television. Welcome to the big league my friend. There's nothing like spending four and a half hours sitting on your couch. Is that groove I told you to start working in yet? If not, you are going to be sorry. Four and a half hours is a pretty good estimate for the time of a race. Don't think that's a guarantee though. I've spent six hours before in front of the tube waiting for the checkered flat to wave. Cautions and/or red flags tend to drag races out. In 2008, rain delayed a number of races, remember the cars are going 200+ m.p.h. at most tracks and cannot go when the road is even a little bit slippery. During these three days you should now feel comfortable talking with other NASCAR fans about the sport. Take some time during these days and review your drivers again, you have a huge decision to make in the next three days.
Also, try and start your own debate in a NASCAR forum about who you think will win the Daytona 500. Go out on a limb and pick any driver. The one great thing about restrictor-plate racing is that any driver can win on any given day. Look at last year's race at Talledega, Regan Smith came out of nowhere and almost put himself in Victory Lane. Also during these days you need to start preparing yourself to be called a redneck hillbilly by anyone that's not a NASCAR fan. Everyone outside of the sport thinks it's nothing but a bunch of back-wooded hill-billies that follow the sport — which of course is not true, I mean look at yourself, you're not a back-wooded hill-billy are you? Anyway, these are the crucial days to the season. By now you should feel comfortable with the upcoming season and have a good feeling for which tracks your two drivers should be really competitive at.
Tip of the day: The Chase involves the top-12 drivers in the driver standings and is NASCAR's version of the play-offs.
Day 28: Rest. This is your one day in the last 27 that you are allowed to take a break of NASCAR. This simulate the small break you get between November and February to step aside from the sport. The weeks ahead are long and never ending. NASCAR only takes a few weekends off during their season, and most of those occur before the half-way point in July. Take this day and spend time with family. You will only get about three months off from this sport, and most every Sunday from here on out is taken up. Races usually start around 1 or 2 p.m. and don't end until 6 or 7 p.m.—sometimes even later! So most every Sunday will be gone, especially if you go to church in the morning and grab a quick lunch before snuggling down into your groove or the afternoon.
Tip of the day: Drivers are seeded in the Chase based on the number of wins they had during the 26-race regular season. Drivers receive 10 bonus points for each race.
Day 29: The big day is looming. You have one more day to make a decision about your favorite driver and watch your first five-hour marathon. During this day, get back on the NASCAR forums and begin talking smack to some people. Sure, you are a pro at this by now right? You've been studying this sport for 28 days now—nobody needs to know that by the way. Talk like you've followed NASCAR your whole life, show them who the man is and talk your driver up.
Also take some time and make up your own predictions for who will make the chase. Who cares if you are way off, most everyone who makes predictions gets it wrong, even the big guys on NASCAR.com and ESPN.com. Have some fun with it, you are in it for the long-haul now. Make some friends on the boards. Also on this day, consider purchasing a ticket to an upcoming race. Find one closest to your home and grab some tickets.
Tip of the day: Seats at the race track are opposite that of a football game. You want to be up higher, you can see more of the track and won't feel the rubber hit you in the face as the cars pass.
Day 30: Wake up this morning feeling like a life-time NASCAR fan. The first thing you need to do is announce who your favorite driver is going to be. How do you do this? It's easy, head over to your local Wal-Mart and purchase a shirt with your new driver's logo and/or number on it. This is your number now and should be represented well. You are a fan of one of the world's greatest drivers, don't represent him poorly at the track. Now invite some friends over, pick up some snacks and drinks and sit down to a good time with your buddies as your driver kicks off the 2009 season at Daytona.
Tip of the day: Pit-stops are the times when teams go in for refills on gas and new tires. It also gives the crew an opportunity to make adjustments on the car, such as wedge and tire pressure.
Congratulations, you are now a NASCAR fan. Welcome to one of the greatest sports to watch. Hope you enjoy the upcoming season! Make sure you check out my other story on a NASCAR Fan's top-10 New Years Resolution for how to act at the track and in your home.
P.S. It is now your responsibility to eat, drink and/or purchase anything from the sponsor of your driver. If you picked Dale Jr. you must drink Mountain Dew and join the National Guard!