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…

The current seat of NASCAR is Charlotte, NC.  However, from this big city and central hub of racing teams the scene rolls back in time to many places and personalities of much more variety. The NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees for 2013 induction showcase this variety all too well.

The field of those on the list for consideration highlight the earliest days of the sport. Fireball Roberts, Wendell Scott, Tim Flock and others advanced the racing, the style and the stories that shaped NASCAR to what it is. Other nominees such as Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress, well known to even the youngest fans, have taken the ropes from the veterans and moved the sport forward to what we see now. (more…)

Realistically…  None of it matters. Yes, close quarter 2×2 racing took its toll and some of the most experienced and fastest drivers were sent to the cap and out of contention. Yes, a record number of cautions and restarts kept the deck shuffled.

This is Daytona! The new surface and the racing style set in motion for the Daytona 500 created a touch and go and hook and push race that created the final scenario of a Wood Brothers Motorcraft #21 Ford victory.

Rookie Trevor Bayne, in his second Sprint Cup start and his first run at Daytona, hooked with some of the best drivers throughout the day, watched as many fell by the wayside in damaged cars, and managed to keep the historic #21 mostly clean and clear to the green-white-checker.

Was this sheer beginner’s luck? No… Not here. Not at Daytona. The 20 year old (birthday the day before the 500) kept his nose and the car clean, backing out of tight spots and driving safe. Beginner’s luck…? Driving nose to tail approaching 200mph for most of 200 laps…? No… Not here. This racing style set up by a new, smooth surface was a new deal for most of the drivers. Drafting isn’t new by any means but requiring it to run at speed lap after lap set tension and fatigue at high levels while magnifying the slightest mistake.

Keeping out of the mess took some driving. Trevor Bayne earned this win. The Wood Brothers needed this win. A team that has been running a short season for the past couple of years and has had to endure hushed whispers in the garage has won the 2011 Daytona 500.

Now we have something new to cheer for in NASCAR. “Go Dale Jr.” has a nice ring to it. Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick….  Johnson…  Gordon…  Whatever hat you have on your head to show your allegiance on race day doesn’t matter when a 20 year old rookie puts some shine back onto an iconic name of NASCAR racing.

The Wood Brothers have Daytona this season and that is something every fan should be able to cheer for.

Wood Brothers #21 Ford - Bill Elliott
Wood Brothers #21 Ford - Bill Elliott

The Wood Brothers are in the Daytona 500. Driver Bill Elliott went from “fastest” during practice to a five spot during qualifying. Even during that run he was fastest at a point but whatever force it is that pushes the accelerator back against Bill’s shoe leather showed itself in the final turn. Right now, Bill and the #21 Motorcraft Ford are set for a dozen races in 2009. Here is at least one “Best Wishes” for a top 10 finish at the Daytona 500. Yes, a win would be better, of course. But let’s get this historic team some added sponsorship for 2009 and get them in some more races. A top 10 may accomplish this for them.

TRG Motorsports #71 Chevy - Mike Wallace
TRG Motorsports #71 Chevy - Mike Wallace

Another underdog to pull for could be Mike Wallace in the #71 TRG Chevy. They physically ran 46th during qualifying and will run Thursday in the second race of the Gatorade Duel at Daytona. If Wallace can climb that field and he can get a spot this new team will be in the field on Sunday. Let’s be honest. A win for the #71 on Sunday would earn you retirement on Vegas odds. However, it is not this team’s goal to win on Sunday. All they need is some lap time for the new car and to climb a few positions from where they start. That would be a big success for the Grand-Am veterans and push another team into the running for 2009. The 71 car just needs to get in.

Two cars, two teams. One has heritage and a name so linked to the sport of NASCAR racing that you can’t split the two with a crobar. The other is new and pushing the foot through the door. A little luck for both teams this week could push them both well into 2009. It doesn’t matter what hat you wear on race day, these two teams deserve a few front stretch cheers as the call goes out to start the engines. Let’s go racing and go 21 and go 71. Race to win. Race to get in.