Thursday, January 8, 2015

No sleep 'til Daytona

Some off-season musings as I try to figure out what to do until Speedweeks arrives in mid-February.
The Deserving Winner
Kevin  Harvick  led  nearly more than 600 laps than
the next  driver during the  2015 season.
Sure there were some drawbacks about the new Chase format and sure there were a few guys in there who really didn't have a chance to win the whole thing. But in the end, at least this time, the most dominant driver throughout the entire season did win the title in Kevin Harvck. When looking at the list of lap leaders for the season, Harvick led 2,137 laps for the 36 points races, 597 more than the next driver, Brad Keselowski. And lets not forget that Harvick tied for the second most wins on the season, just behind Keselowski's six. With a little luck, Harvick could have well won eight or nine races. The point is, he consistently had the fastest car throughout the season, and appropriately he won the title. So it all worked out . . . this time.
The Irony Factor
The champion, however, could have very easily been Ryan Newman, who finished second to Harvick at Homestead and second in the Chase. The irony would have been that in a season where there was more emphasis on winning then ever before, a winless driver could have won the title. Now, it's hard not to like Ryan Newman, don't get me wrong, but if say, Harvick had finished third, just behind Newman at Homestead to give No. 31 the title, a driver who led just 41 laps throughout the whole season would be the champion. And while a good portion of fans could not have helped but be happy for Newman, he was not close to being a dominant driver not only for the season, but for any race. That would have had a lot of NASCAR fans waving a red flag on the new Chase format. Some still are waving that red flag, and when change comes, that will always be the case. But the last race did have drama by design, and that's not all bad.
That No. 46 thing
Jeff Gordon nearly drove the No. 46 car, but luckily it didn't happen.
Former Jeff Gordon crew chief Ray Evernham revealed on twitter this past week that Jeff Gordon nearly drove the No. 46 car, but Hendrick Motorsports could not get the number approved because of licensing stipulation with the NASCAR movie Days of Thunder. The left the team to settle for the now famous No. 24. And when it comes to sports overall, it was a bit of poetic justice that one of NASCAR's all-time greats ended up with what is an all-time great number. Some of the other famous athletes to wear No. 24 are Willlie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr in baseball, Future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant in the NBA and current NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch. It was just a nice anecdote by Evernham and not a reason to cause panic. It's funny how things don't work out as planned every now and then, but sometimes it's for the best.
Will Gas Prices Matter?
One of the reasons that was heard in recent years for the general attendance drop was that gas prices made it more difficult for fans to make long drives to get to races. So, now, with gas prices hitting nearly five-year lows, it will be interesting to see if at least some fans return to the stands due to the money they are not spending on gas. Maybe that, combined with the special ticket offers that many tracks offer and the stands that some tracks are removing, will help make the stands at least look a little more full at some places in 2015.
Will no testing narrow gap?
We know for sure that Sprint Cup teams not being able to test at tracks this year will save teams money. According to Michael Waltrip, it will save his team well over $1 million, so no matter how big a team is, that's not pocket change. The big question though is will the no testing rule close the gap between the big budget and smaller teams. Unfortunately, that answer is still probably no. The issue is that the big teams are still the ones that can afford to put their cars in wind tunnels to check the aerodynamics. They are also the ones that can afford to run their engines in the shop longer to see how long they will last or find where a weak part may develop. Let's face it, the big money teams will spend whatever they need to get an advantage, no matter what the rules package is. Maybe it will help the smaller teams a little, by taking away one piece of the puzzle that bigger teams had. But it will still be an uphill battle for the little guys.
Osborne back on the box
Bob Osborne will be an experienced voice for  Ricky Stenhouse  Jr.
In all of the shuffling at Roush-Femway, it was good to hear that Bob Osborne will be back atop the pit box as a crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Osborne came within one point of being a championship crew chief for Carl Edwards in 2011. He understands what it takes to win and also what it takes to be good for the long haul. And  let's face it, Stenhouse's results were disappointing in 2014. He had just one top five finish and just four other top 10 finishes in his 35 races. And he finished 27th in points and led zero  laps this season. That's a regression from his  rookie season when he was 19th in points. So maybe Osborne can bring along Stenhouse, who needs to prove  he can be competitive on a consistent basis this year. And,yes, Osborne is first-class person, too, and that never hurts. This team's goal should be to win a race in 2015.
No sleep 'til Daytona
Friday makes it 43 days until the Daytona 500. It seems like forever right now in the midst of the snow and extreme cold in much of the country. But it will be here before you know it. And that's the best news of the day.