The start of a new racing year produces many indefinite details. The 2014 season looms in front of us, but we have no idea what it has in-store. Prior to 2013, there was no hint that Matt Kenseth would win seven races, Tony Stewart would break his leg and miss a large part of the season, or that Jimmie Johnson would dominate in route to his sixth title. Those events were a part of the roller coaster ride 2013 was. With the new season approaching, NASCAR prepares to take the wild ride 2014 will have to offer.
Since there is no telling what is ahead, why not ask questions? With so much newness coming into the Sprint Cup Series, the season is already full of the unknown factor. Before the season gets rolling, let’s pose a few questions about what is ahead of us.
What does the new Chase procedure bring to the sport?
Easily the most unpredictable part of 2014 will be the new Chase system. How will it play out? What will it change in the regular season? What will drivers do differently? Will they go after wins more aggressively? What about in the Chase? How competitive will the drivers be in the rounds? What will an elimination race be like? How does the season finale turn out?
Okay, that’s a lot more than one question. However, those are the unknowns brought about by the new system. It has never been used before, so we just don’t know how it will go. What NASCAR says to expect is an overall increase in excitement. They expect these drivers to be as win-crazy as ever. Chances may be taken towards the end of the races that generate a thrill for race fans. It is exhilarating to think about, but let’s wait and see how this question is answered throughout 2014.
How will drivers who win early in the season treat the rest of the regular season?
With a driver potentially winning the Daytona 500 and locking up a Chase spot, the question of how the drivers will treat their season’s after they score a victory is posed. They aren’t completely guaranteed a spot in the postseason by winning one race, but history points to the fact that there won’t likely be 16 different winners in the regular season. Meaning, one victory will likely seal a Chase spot. With that in mind, will a driver who wins early just take it easy the rest of the season? Of course, they would like to get more wins, but the prize of three more Chase bonus points doesn’t seem to be too big of an incentive.
Drivers could easily win early and cruise for the rest of the season. That would accomplish the opposite of NASCAR’s goal in adding excitement to the sport. NASCAR certainly doesn’t want that, but they may be setting it up to happen. The biggest test will be to see how the Daytona 500 winner is doing in May or June. Are they still competing closely week after week? Or are they taking it easy? Only time will answer this question and NASCAR hopes the answer provided isn’t one that includes the words “taking it easy.”
What will qualifying be like under the new format?
Another one of the million changes heading into the new season regards qualifying. With a new format that is quicker, shorter, and sure to get fans’ attention, NASCAR is hoping to have hit a homerun. The days of three to four hour qualifying sessions are over as an attempt to draw interest to qualifying has returned. The rules are pretty scarce as NASCAR hasn’t really put many restrictions or mandates on the new session. This may appeal to teams as a chance to play some games in order to grab a high starting position. The new format may be more exciting, but the door may have also been opened for more shenanigans to be played in the garage. Will teams play by the rules or venture into the grey area? The opportunity for both is here, making qualifying one big unknown in 2014.
By Jason Schultz
Follow him on twitter @NASCARJason