There Were Good Crowds at Daytona International Speedway

The first races of the year for all three of the NASCAR touring series is in the record books at Daytona International Speedway. Here are some observations and thoughts about the events of the long weekend.

Much has been said about reduced attendance at NASCAR races but this weekend’s races at Daytona appeared to have changed that trend. NASCAR and the tracks no longer post attendance figures but from my vantage point the races on all four days were well attended. The Daytona 500 was about as close to a sell out as they could get since the speedway is still under construction.

Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway

In the picture the stands that appear grey are under construction and do not actually have any seats installed. It will be interesting next year to see how the attendance is when all the new grandstands are done.

Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway

The Daytona Rising project is far from complete but it is a great success. I can attest that it was very nice to take an escalator up to my seats. The wide open concourse area was also well appreciated when  walking to and from the food vendors and restrooms.

Women will love the new Rest Rooms. It appears that Daytona installed twice as many facilities for women as men.

The new seats are much wider with cup holders and were a welcome change from the seats that were there and definitely better than the bleacher seats at other tracks.

The Daytona Rising project is a success even though it isn’t complete. The part that is complete provided race fans with just enough to entice them to come back and see it when it is finished. The Daytona International Speedway will be a First Class facility when it is complete.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

 Feature Photo Credit:  Brian M. Berg Jr.

 

Knock Out Qualifying at Daytona is Exciting but Doesn’t Work

NASCAR Coors Light Pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway utilized the knock out qualifying format that was instituted last year. It was exciting but was confusing and convoluted. Much like Talladega last year, it should never be done again.

It seems like it might be exciting. Have the teams run all together, drafting to see who is fastest in order to make the race. It is except when those same drivers use the rules to gain an advantage. During the first session drivers sat on pit road waiting for the last possible time that they would need to get up to speed and post a great lap. The idea was that one wanted to be the car catching the pack and getting the most out of the draft. Then it goes wrong.

There is a big wreck at the tail end of the draft which doesn’t allow the bulk of the field to put up a maximum up to speed lap. Suddenly, what looked exciting messes up a whole bunch of drivers qualifying effort. Suddenly, those who happened to get the draw for the second group have a huge advantage to make the second round.

It wasn’t supposed to be but it ended up looking like simply a timed qualifying race. Why would one have a qualifying race for a qualifying race? Why would one’s qualifying effort be left to the hands of others in the event of a huge wreck?

Well I must say it is more exciting than single car qualifying although I miss the information about each team while they take their 2 minutes or so to make a lap on the big oval. The question then becomes “How do we make it better?”

Well if it looks like a duck then let’s make it a duck. It takes about one minute to make a lap at Daytona. It takes about 2.5 laps to make it up to speed. Line them up by some random draw, bring out a pace car and drop the rag. Then it’s every man or team for themselves, you have five minutes. No boring waiting around pit row gaming the system. Since everyone is out there at the same time everyone will have a chance to get some time in. Some might get seven laps in some maybe only six but at least we have a track full of cars.

It did make for a Story Book ending. Jeff Gordon won the Coors Light Pole Award. His teammate Jimmie Johnson will start outside.

NASCAR either make it what it timed qualifying races or go back to single car qualifying runs.

Photo Credit: 304938 Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images
Photo Credit: 304938 Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images

If you cannot make it to Daytona International Speedway for the Budweiser Dual 150’s they will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 Thursday February 19th starting at 7 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary.

Feature Photo Credit: 304946 Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Sprint Unlimited has Been Dominated by Big Team Drivers

This year the NASCAR Offseason seems to be longer than ever. It probably has to do with the fact that there was no preseason thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway. Don’t worry the season is upon us. The NASCAR season begins with the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race.

This year’s race will consist of two segments, 25 and 50 laps, with a competition caution coming after Lap 25.

As for the race itself, there seems to be several different agendas by drivers and teams in this race. Some use it for extra practice to see how they stack up against the competition. Others seem to race but not take any chances if their car isn’t quite right. Regardless of the strategy, the big teams seem to have this race covered and generally win.

This race has been won by only eight different drivers since 2001. #14-Tony Stewart (07, 02, 01), #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. (08, 03), Dale Jarrett (04), #48-Jimme Johnson (05), #11-Denny Hamlin (14, 06), #4-Kevin Harvick (13, 10, 09), #41-Kurt Busch (11), and #18-Kyle Busch (12).

The Sprint Unlimited consists of those drivers who have won a Coors Light Pole Award the previous season plus former Daytona 500 pole winners. Drivers who entered at least one race last year and have also won a previous Sprint Unlimited can also enter this race.

In December NASCAR expanded the field to 25 drivers adding in all sixteen 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders. If there is still not a full 25 car field then those highest in driver points from 2014 that are not otherwise eligible for the race can enter. Here is the entry list of eligible drivers.

2014 Pole Winners:
Austin Dillon (Daytona)
Brad Keselowski (Phoenix)
Joey Logano (Las Vegas)
Denny Hamlin (Bristol)
Matt Kenseth (Auto Club)
Kyle Busch (Martinsville)
Tony Stewart (Texas)
Kevin Harvick (Darlington)
Brian Scott (Talladega)
Jimmie Johnson (Charlotte)
Jamie McMurray (Sonoma)
David Gilliland (Daytona)
Kyle Larson (Pocono)
Jeff Gordon (Watkins Glen)
Brian Vickers (Talladega)

Former Daytona 500 Pole Winners:
Danica Patrick (’13)
Carl Edwards (’12)
Martin Truex Jr. (’09)
Greg Biffle (’04)

Former Sprint Unlimited Winners:
Kurt Busch (2011)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (’03, ’08)

2014 Chase Contenders (Not Already Qualified for the Race)
AJ Allmendinger
Aric Almirola
Kasey Kahne
Ryan Newman

Pole winner Brian Scott is not entering the race and Brian Vickers is out due to health concerns. AJ Allmendinger and David Gilliland will also miss the race due to lack of sponsorship. This has opened up the field to four more drivers based on points from last season, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears. Marcos Ambrose is no longer racing in NASCAR leaving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as the last driver to enter the field.

If you cannot get to Daytona International Speedway for the Sprint Unlimited it will be broadcast live on Fox, Saturday February 14th starting at 8 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary.

Feature Photo Credit: 294756 Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

Strategies to Win the NASCAR Sprint Cup

Last year NASCAR changed the rules on how to win the Championship the Sprint Cup. The goal of those changes was to make the Chase races more exciting. To put a do or die component in like other sports have where your championship efforts are over when you lose a game.  In the 2011 season where Tony Stewart won five races in the Chase and beat Carl Edwards to win the last race of the Chase and the Championship. This was the closest championship in history. To have a Championship get settled on the last lap of the last race of the season, that is what the new Chase is all about.

The Chase consists of three rounds of three races each after which four drivers would be eliminated. The catch was that any driver who wins a race in a round automatically moves forward to the next round. The final four drivers would compete for all the marbles in the last race of the season at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Winning a race, this is where some of the drivers and fans got caught. It seems simple. Win and move on. The problem that was overlooked by some was that the risk for racing for that win is greater than the reward, especially in the early rounds.

Points Racing: In reality one can points race. That is race in such a way as to out point the opponents. Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin did not win races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup but managed to make it to the final round at Homestead Miami Speedway. They finished 2nd and 3rd in the championship standings by out pointing their opponents throughout the Chase.

Racing for the Win: Jeff Gordon was racing for the win at Texas Motor Speedway and Brad Keselowski wanted it more. Gordon didn’t back down and wrecked his car. He ended up 29th in the race giving the competition at least 10 points but more importantly moving himself into about a four way tie for the fourth and final spot for the final race.

When the race ended at Phoenix, Jeff Gordon was tied with eventual Champion Kevin Harvick and one point behind Ryan Newman. Harvick made the last and final round by winning the race at Phoenix. Ryan Newman made the last final round as the last driver in on points.  If Gordon would have let Keselowski pass he would have made the last round of the Chase. He would have had a chance for his fifth championship.

Wrap Up: Although winning is always good, at the end of each round in the Chase it appeared that winning was something better left to desperation. Even in the last round of the Chase, the Eliminator Round, there were three spots available to make it to the final on points. Watch for teams to pay more attention to points and who they are actually racing against to move on to each and every round. The racing back in the field is more important than it has ever been.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary.

Feature Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Strategies to Make the Chase for the Sprint Cup

Last year NASCAR changed the rules for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The goal of those changes was simply to make the racing better. Without exception the racing in 2014 was better than it has been making these changes a big success. There was some initial controversy on how teams made the 16 car Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Win and Your In: This is the one part of the rules that caused the most consternation among fans. The thought was that a team might luck into a win then steal the championship without really earning it. In reality last year showed that will probably never happen.

Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger had lack luster regular seasons finishing 22nd and 23rd respectively. They each won a race to put them into the Chase field. Almirola won the July race at Daytona and Allmendinger wining at the Watkins Glen road course. The reality is that those teams did not improve during the regular season so their performance in the chase was only marginally better. Almirola finished the season 16th or last of the Chase drivers. Allmendinger did improve a little but finished 13th.

Kasey Kahne was also not having a good year. He finished the regular season 13th in points and would have missed the Chase had the rules not been changed. He made it with his win one week before the last regular season race at Atlanta. Just like Almirola and Allmendinger Kahne’s team did not improve and took that into the Chase finishing 15th.

Consistency: This is how Championships are won. Consistency, out pointing your competition has been the foundation for Championships in NASCAR forever. With the new rules it looked like Consistency as a Championship strategy was dead. 2014 proved that that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, and Greg Biffle entered the Chase by being the top drivers in points who did not win a race. They finished the regular season 6th, 8th and 10th respectively. Of the three Matt Kenseth with his ten top five finishes looked like he would take Consistency into the Chase and possibly win a Championship. Note all three in spite of not winning would have made the Chase under the old rules.

The reality was that while Matt Kenseth maintained his consistency Ryan Newman’s team steeped it up in the Chase finished second in the race at Homestead behind Champion Kevin Harvick to end up second in the Championship. They showed that one could race old school out pointing the competition and win a championship without winning a race.

Missing a race or more:  Another controversial part of the rules to make the Chase is where a driver can miss a race due to health or other issues, then win a race and with NASCAR’s approval make the Chase. The only requirement is that the driver has to remain in the top 30 in points. Gone are the Iron Man days, where a driver would race hurt to get the points and stay in the Championship.

Denny Hamlin had to miss the fifth race of the season at Auto Club Speedway due to a piece of metal in his eye.  NASCAR approved that he missed a race due to this medical problem and Denny Hamlin finished the regular season 19th in points. More importantly Hamlin won the May race at Talladega Superspeedway putting himself in the Chase.

Hamlin’s team would have been 17th or perhaps as high as 14th in points had he not missed that race. They proved that this rule works enabling teams to salvage a season. More importantly they proved that an ever improving team that did not have early consistency can also win a Championship by peaking at the right time during the Chase. Denny Hamlin finished the season third in the Standings.

Wrap up: What was learned last year in the regular season is that racing for maximum points is still a winning strategy. The new rules for making the Chase only provides additional options. The option to salvage a season if you happen to miss a race. The option to make the Chase while vastly improving your team throughout the regular season. Make no mistake about it your team must be at the top of its game regardless of how it made the NASCAR Chase when the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary.

Feature Photo Credit 301215 Richmond International Raceway