2016 is on the track for racing. The ROLEX 24 opened the season with speed, splendor and color at Daytona and the Daytona 500 is rapidly approaching. Speed Weeks at Daytona always showcase some changes but this year there are some differences the casual, tune in and watch’em go fast’ fan might not catch right away.

For the obvious, let’s look at the #24. The famous driver isn’t the driver anymore. Jeff Gordon is out of the fire suit and into the broadcaster suit. Gordon will be in the booth joining the FOX Sports NASCAR broadcast team. He will still be at the track but out of sight, for the most part, as he adds commentary and insight to the broadcast viewers.

In the seat of the #24 will be Chase Elliott. The son of Cup Champion Bill Elliott is taking the #24 for his full time cross over season from the Xfinity series (2014 Champion). Fans will also see NAPA Auto Parts as a major player on the 24 Chevy.

Tony Stewart. It is his final year as he announced near the end of the 2015 season. The kick is he won’t be there to start the season at Daytona or for a good portion of it. He injured his back quite severely essentially in a dune buggy type vehicle incident in January. Stewart is in recovery but the injury presents a long trek back to the track. To start out at Daytona, Brian Vickers has been tapped to drive the #14. Ty Dillon has also been named to take Stewart’s car out when other series do not conflict.

Danica Patrick and the #10. She will still be out on the track as part of Stewart-Haas but the GoDaddy is gone. That easy to spot green is replaced by another major sponsor for 2016. Nature’s Bakery will take the primary location on the #10 Chevy. We’re looking forward to some free brownie snacks at the track!

Clint Bowyer. You may not notice it as the sponsor and the number remain the same for Bowyer in 2016. The #15, however, is off a Toyota and on a Chevy as Michael Waltrip Racing fell under at the end of the last season and Bowyer caught a ride, with his number and 5-Hour Energy sponsor, at the small HScott Motorsports. It is a one year run for Clint as he has also been tagged to join Stewart-Haas for 2017 and take over the #14 as Stewart steps away to engage further in the owner gig.

As for the actual racing there are two changes that will become more obvious as the season gets under way. First and more noticeable will be a little less traffic on the track. NASCAR has cut the running field down to 40 cars from the 43 that had been running for almost 20 years. This means some of those tag-alongs will have to really step up their game to make the field on any given race day. Most of the fans might not even notice the loss of three cars as they are watching the front anyway.

The other change falls on those races that face late race cautions. In the event of a green-white-checkered finish, NASCAR has set a distance marker so it is clear that the start is indeed fair and clean. If the lead car passes this mark the “green” start will be held to race. If their is another caution before the leader crosses that mark then there will be another shot at a clean start. This could happen as many times as needed. Cautions with just a few laps to go are not uncommon so this will likely be put to the test for the drivers and the fans.

Oh…. One more thing while we’re on it. Look for the Wood Brothers and the #21 Ford at every race this season. They will be running a full schedule for the first time in several seasons. Ryan Blaney has the wheel of the Motorcraft #21 as we give a nod to one of the iconic teams in racing.

Go Racing – and try to keep up…

Injuries. It is probably not the best topic on the eve of the start of NASCAR and the Daytona 500. Reality, however, may take the reigns.

As tough as it may be for some, perhaps even many, in the grandstands, the famed #3 is returning to “Cup” racing. The number may technically belong to Richard Childress but to all those who keep a fading and slanted “3” on their automobile windows it will always belong to Dale Earnhardt. The seven time Champion was killed while in the sport and in the car. It was a fatal injury that changed the way NASCAR races from that day forward.

It is not a matter of whether Austin Dillon, grandson of Richard Childress, can or even should drive the number. It is a matter of injury. The drivers, whatever the number, take a risk for their ride and for the show that the fans pay the money for. (more…)

Tony Stewart. One guy crashes up and the rest of racing gets shaken up. At Watkins Glen, Max Papis was yanked away from his Grand-Am ride to pilot the #14 of Stewart. At Michigan, Austin Dillon was pulled away from his Nationwide duties to drive the #14.

At the center is a focus on non-traditional NASCAR racing. Stewart crashed while racing sprint cars on dirt. The next two weeks had drivers taking attention away from road course racing to drive the #14 and one of those (Papis) was taken from one road course to another. Dillon took attention away from his #1 points position in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the race at Mid-Ohio (road course) to drive for Stewart at Michigan.

Dirt tracks and road courses. Dillon had earlier won the Camping World Series truck race at Eldora which is a dirt tack owned by Tony Stewart. Timing may not have suited Dillon as he stepped away from Mid-Ohio and his first in points position to drive for Stewart but it was an opportunity not to be skipped.

Even if he did have to start at Mid-Ohio in the back for missing qualifying…

Even if he’ll eventually be competing against Stewart as he moves to his own Cup ride, likely to be #3…

(Yes – The #3. He’s in it for Nationwide and will likely have it again. Sorry, Dale Sr. fans… No use boo-hooing so you might as well start pulling out some cheers…)

And even if his grandfather (Richard Childress) is losing Kevin Harvick to Stewart-Haas in 2014… (more…)

Road racing. It was a full weekend of road courses from cheap chumps all the way up the ladder to NASCAR.

Grand-Am and American Le Mans were at Road America which is interesting on several levels. The two series are combining for 2014 and running the same weekend showcased both series in action. They were still split over Saturday and Sunday but fans were shown both through the paddock, practices and racing.

NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup were racing Watkins Glen, the second road coarse on their schedule and the last for the season. There is still debate about a road course in “The Chase” but that is likely several laps away.

Grand-Am and NASCAR were given a bit of a shake for these races as Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas #14) was injured earlier in the week in a sprint car rollover crash. This left the #14 without a driver at “The Glen” and points hole where Stewart was (11th before Watkins Glen). The rush to fill that seat landed on Max Papis who is currently driving Grand-Am but also has time in Sprint Cup cockpits. That left Papis’ seat as a fill-in at Road America which put Kenny Wilden in as a co-driver with Papis’ usual partner, Jeff Segal.

How did the replacements run? Segal and Wilden put the AIM Autosport Ferrari into a GT Class 4th place. Max Papis drove Stewart’s #14 to a 15th place finish which, all things considered, wasn’t too bad as he started 29th.

Kyle Busch won at “The Glen”. BMW was the big winner at Road America as Starworks put theirs in for the Prototype Class and Turner put theirs in for GT. (more…)

“Third time is a charm” or perhaps things sometimes happen in “threes” or maybe it’s just luck…

Tony Stewart is out of the #14, Mobil 1 – Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet for Watkins Glen. That is certain. How many more races he could miss as the season runs closer to Richmond and “The Chase” is yet to be determined.

At Southern Iowa Speedway, Stewart was running quite well in his #14 sprint car when he slid into a slower car and went for an airborne tumble. The result was a smashed car and a broken leg. To be exact, he broke the bones in his lower right leg. (more…)

Trucks.

Trucks racing on dirt.

It certainly sounds normal. After all, trucks have been running rally and off-road in all sorts of competition. This time was a bit different…

These trucks don’t have long travel suspension or skid plates. These aren’t the trucks from the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series . These are NASCAR chassis sanctioned for Daytona and Dover, Martinsville and Michigan. These are the Camping World Series trucks and they ran on dirt at Eldora in Ohio.

Tony Stewart (Sprint Cup Champion / Stewart-Haas Racing) owns the facilities at Eldora and worked with NASCAR to bring the trucks to town. The only real mod on the trucks from their last race at Iowa were box-grooved tires. The surface of the track is hard-pack clay, dimpled a bit with special equipment and periodically moistened and re-set.

The combination made for a slick return to dirt track racing for a NASCAR premiere series. The first since 1970 when Richard Petty won at the fairgrounds in Raleigh, NC. (more…)

As far as we can tell, Tony Stewart is at his best when he has a bit of a temper behind him.

Not always. Stewart can be a pleasant fellow with a witty sense of humor. Observations, however, often reveal his “race face” is no-nonsense and when he is stewing over something he, as often, puts that same simmer into focus.

He just won at Dover which ended a fairly long winless streak. Yes, circumstances set in motion near the end of the race played into it as Jimmie Johnson was called to roll down pit road after a jumped restart. With that, Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya were left to race it out.

Before the race, Stewart seemed short, almost dismissive, for pre-race discussion or interviews. Afterwards, following checkered flags, burnouts, and a side-by-side with the “Monster”, Stewart was even more “Stewartly” with the media. (more…)