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…