NASCARNASCAR Cup SeriesNASCAR Xfinity Series

The NASCAR season is nearly upon us

5 Mins read
Psst! Psst! It's almost time. No – really. Wake up people. It's nearly time for it all to start again – it's time for the winter hibernation to end. Those good ol' boys will be out in them there NASCAR cars soon. Very soon. Doesn't seem that long since Jimmie boy won his fifth, does it?

Have you missed much, you ask? No, not really – just odd little snippets of news. Tell you what – whilst you bring yourself back to the real world I'll fill you in on the bits of gossip. Nothing exciting but it pays to have the facts when they start racing again, doesn't it?

So when do they start racing? The first race – the non-championship Budweiser Shootout is in less than five weeks, followed five days later by the two qualifying races, Duel 1 and Duel 2 for the big one, the Daytona 500 which is just under seven weeks hence. I'll come back to those later.

Before then we have the annual NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest. Or tyre testing as we'd call it. On Thursday evening next week Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, David Regan, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr. and Regan Smith take to the track, some of them experiencing for the first time the newly repaved surface.

Friday's testing is split into two sessions with Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann, Casey Mears, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kevin Conway, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman on track between 5 and 7 pm and then for the following two hours A J Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, Jamie Mc Murray, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose, Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers will get their turn.

Talking of Brian Vickers on Monday of last week he had his first run in the Sprint Cup Series car since he was diagnosed with blood clots last May. A test run at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida was organised for the #83 Red Bull Toyota and Vickers said at lunchtime, “Damn that felt good. Everything fits just like I left it.”

Red Bull also announced during the winter break that the other team car, to be driven by Kasey Kahne, would no longer run as the #82 car but would be the #4 for this season. See – I told you the news wasn't too exciting, didn't I?

Another team starting the season in changed shape, but with good reason, is the Richard Petty Motorsports team. As you will recall they finished last year under a financial black cloud and decided to trim down to a two-car outfit for 2011. That is exactly what they have done and they are pleased to have secured sponsorship for A J Allmendinger in the #43 Ford from Best Buy for 24 Cup races plus two non-points events and the sponsor will also be an associate sponsor for Marcos Ambrose's #9 car.

J J Yeley, like A J Allmendinger economical with christian names, has secured a full time drive for 2011 with Whitney Motorsports. The 34 year old from Arizona who has previously won USAC Midget and Sprint championships will race the #46 Chevrolet with sponsorship for part of the season coming from Cash America International. In 112 Cup Series starts Yeley's best results have been one second place and a pole position in 2007 and a third in 2008.

Paul Wolfe who was crew chief for Brad Keselowski in his Nationwide Series championship winning season last year is to become Keselowski's crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series for 2011 hoping their obvious chemistry carries over in the fabled Blue Deuce, the number 2 Dodge for Penske Racing. Together the pair created a new record of 26 top five finishes in the series in 2010 and raced every single lap except one, an astonishing achievement.

Jennifer Jo Cobb who drove throughout the Camping World Truck Series last year has put together a sponsorship package to drive the #79 Ford in the first five races of the Nationwide Series next season. Their engines will be supplied by Roush Fenway. Cobb is expecting to do double duty at Daytona, racing in both Nationwide and Truck class and will continue both classes if the necessary sponsorship is forthcoming for the Nationwide car.

Watkins Glen is to spend $3 million dollars on upgrades this season, including four new grandstands and a replacement for the Glen Club which was destroyed in a fire three years ago.

Only if you are fortunate enough to see ESPN on your cable/satellite tv stations will the news of Ray Evernham's departure to work on Special Projects Рwhatever that means Рfor Hendrick Motorsports have any impact upon you. But only if you have been fortunate enough to watch the likes of the NASCAR Now programme will you know what a loss his expertise will be to their show. Evernham was the crew chief to Jeff Gordon when he won several championships in the 1990's and has also been a team owner in his time. The insights he brought and his banter with former Sprint Cup driver, Ricky Craven, each playing the r̫le of exasperated victim of the other's inability to provide a winning combination were as funny and entertaining as they were educational.

And, finally, on the eve of the Daytona races NASCAR is expected to use its traditional media day as an opportunity to – possibly – make changes to both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series beyond the use of the new self-venting fuel can, the introduction of which has reduced the pit lane teams from seven men to six this year.

There is speculation that they may tweak the number of qualifiers for The Chase over the last ten races to fifteen drivers. Possibly. And in the Nationwide Series NASCAR are known to be considering whether to bar Sprint Cup drivers from taking part in the championship even though they would still be permitted to race. That opens up all sorts of cans of worms. Will the sponsors still be keen to back a driver who gets no points? Who gets to celebrate in victory lane, the race winner or the man who gets most points – which could be the driver who, say, finished sixth? And what chance a champion who never comes close to winning a race?

We will find out exactly what NASCAR have in mind in one month's time. What it won't be, sadly, is making the 2011 Sprint Cup cars look as good as the Nationwide ones. This year in the second series you will spot the Fords easily because the will look like Mustangs. And the Dodges will look like Challengers. Meanwhile the Sprint Cup cars will look, as they always have since the introduction of the COT – Car of Tomorrow – identical in shape and size, only the faux grille and manufacture's name on the front identifying each model. Maybe 2012, huh?

Like I said, there's not been a lot happening during the off season but it all kicks off soon and in my next article I will tell you who has been invited to take part in the Budweiser Shootout and who has not.

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