I didn’t have one idea that I wanted to focus on with my last blog post before the 2011 season gets under way this week, so instead I’ve got a bunch of mini topics to touch on. Feel free to comment on any or all of them.
New Points System
I’ve been asked by a few people what my opinion is of the new points system NASCAR has instituted for this season, and I’ve got to say, I don’t really care. It seems on initial inspection that it isn’t a ton different then the old system, and I really don’t believe it will change the way teams race. Teams will still try like hell to win races, and when they can’t, they will do whatever is necessary to get the best possible finish they can. You will also still see teams try and get their race cars back on track after a wreck in order to ride around and get as many points as they can. The mindset won’t change. So I guess if the new system makes things easier for the fans, cool, but other than that, I don’t care.
Final Pit Procedure Thoughts
We’ve talked quite a bit around here about the new pit road procedures with the elimination of the catch can position, but I just wanted to offer a few final points. I encourage you to really pay attention to pit stops at Daytona, because you will definitely see some differing techniques among the teams. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it appears as though one or two teams use a system that works better than the others, and for the other teams to follow suit shortly. It will be kind of a “monkey see, monkey do” situation once the teams get a chance to scout each other. These changes will also have a significant impact on pit strategy and what adjustments will get made. It’s a whole new ball game for crew chiefs and engineers now, and I think there is a much larger emphasis now on the decisions they make during the races. You will see a lot more races decided based on pit strategies – at least in the short run.
Important Season For Many Drivers, Teams, and Sponsors
There are quite a few drivers and sponsors this season that have contracts that will be expiring after Homestead in November. Lee Spencer from FoxSports.com recently had a bit up about all the Cup drivers who are in the final year of their contracts in 2011 (see it here). This really could be a year that we look back on and say that this was the year that made or broke driver X or team Y. There will be a lot of pressure on those drivers and teams to put in solid performances every week in order to help secure their futures. With the economy continuing to a be a big factor with sponsorships, these teams don’t want to give these companies any reason to either switch to another race team, or pull out completely. It will certainly be an interesting story line to watch.
Nationwide Series Changes
I’m really curious to see how the 2011 season unfolds for the Nationwide Series after the championship eligibility changes were made. Will it really help bring the series back to being a developmental series, or will the Cup drivers continue to dominate regardless? We haven’t had a solid Cup rookie class in a couple of years, and the deterioration of the Nationwide Series has certainly played a part in that. In order to keep the talent coffers full of new young drivers, it’s vital that the NNS get back to being a place where these kids can learn how to race.
We don’t normally do a ton of predictions around here, because they are mostly useless, and it’s pretty much impossible to get them right. But with that said, I’m going to give you my picks on who I think will win each of the top three championships. In the Truck Series, I believe the addition of Jeff Hensley to KHI will pay off big and Ron H0rnaday will return to dominance. Hornaday ran really well last season, but just had a lot of bad luck. Expect that to change for 2011. For the Nationwide Series, I think the pick has to be Elliott Sadler. The Joe Gibbs Toyotas are pretty much unstoppable, but since neither Joey Logano nor Kyle Busch can win the championship, the balance shifts towards KHI. Sadler has the talent and will have the equipment to be a contender every week, and I don’t see any of the younger drivers putting it together for 34 races. And finally, the 2011 Cup Series champion will be Denny Hamlin. The bitter taste of being the runner up to Jimmie Johnson in 2010 will be serious motivation for this team to take the next step, and with Hamlin being 100% healthy this season, he will put it together and unseat the 48 bunch.
The off season has ended, and teams will head to Daytona this week. The next time you hear from me, we’ll have our first race winner (even if it is an exhibition race), and the front row will be set for the Daytona 500. Welcome to 2011!