NASCAR’s traveling show headed west from Daytona International Speedway leaving behind one question: What’s next?
Race teams have to find that answer as they move away from the complicated and unique restrictor-plate rules for the Daytona 500 and to Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.
The speedway has to find answers why so many people were injured when a car showered the grandstands with debris during a crash at the end of Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.
Jimmie Johnson came out of Daytona with the greatest sense of accomplishment and momentum. He led the final 10 laps and finished two car lengths ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. for his second career win in the Great American Race.
Everyone else will find solace in the fact the cars for the Phoenix race is the more-traditional stock car that will be used for 32 of 36 regular season races.
“I’m glad to go back to a racetrack where drivers matter and car handling matters,” Kyle Busch said. “I’m looking forward to getting back there, for sure. The best way to get over the disappointment of the Daytona 500 is to get back in the car and have another chance at winning the next one.”
The Sprint Cup Series also is working with a new race car called “Gen-6.” While the new styles bring back manufacturer identities, it’s been a work in progress for teams.
Whether Johnson believes he can parlay his Daytona success into a strong season won’t be known until he gets the chance to drive the non-restricted car.
As teams try to figure out their cars, NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway officials will try to figure out how to better protect fans from injury. A car driven by Kyle Larson became airborne during a crash at the finish line, and it struck the fence. Portions of the car ripped through the fence, sending the entire front wheel assembly and race engine into the grandstands.
NASCAR and the speedway will do their own investigation and will make necessary changes.
“I don’t think either entity is sitting back,” speedway president Joie Chitwood said. “I think we’re all looking at ways to keep getting better and I think that’s the key. I’m sure through this process we’ll learn some things that we can incorporate moving forward. But the goal is we’re both committed to that.”