Starting Jan. 9, Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series teams will get two days each to shake down new cars for the upcoming season. With that comes an expectation of new storylines for 2014. Like:
WHO’S THE BOSS?
Tony Stewart has a dominating personality. So does Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. And as everyone else has learned Danica Patrick has an A-type personality as well.
Now that they’re all on the same team at Stewart-Hass Racing, it’s natural to wonder which will become the lead driver. More interesting, will the others be willing to play second fiddle?
Stewart is returning after missing the final 15 races in 2013 with a broken leg suffered in a sprint car race. He’s a three-time champion who takes his racing very seriously.
Harvick will join the team after spending the past 13 years at Richard Childress Racing. He replaced Dale Earnhardt days after he died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. He’s known as much for his outbursts as victories. Like Stewart, he doesn’t take losing well.
Busch, who won the 2004 championship, has been fired twice since then after team owners became weary of his boorish behavior. Many believe his talent was too often affected by his emotions.
And with Patrick you get one of the most-famous women in the sporting world who is committed to winning in NASCAR. She won’t have to look far to find three role models for her own success, even if it comes at their expense.
WILL FOCUS RETURN?
There was a lot written and said about the new Generation-6 race car last year. While it proved to be fast, with 19 track records, it didn’t perform well in traffic.
NASCAR tweaked the rules to make the cars more stable in traffic at all of its tracks except Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, which should lead to more passes.
The early reviews have been positive.
“So we’re hoping that this will, in fact, provide the drivers with more confidence in these type of very, let’s say, congested environments to drive harder and be willing to pass,” said Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s vice president of innovation and racing development.
If he’s right, Gen-6 won’t be a story in 2014, which would be a big story.
Jeff Gordon showed bursts of speed last year, but he wasn’t able to sustain it during the long, 36-race schedule.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, but he did it without a victory. In fact, he’s only won two races in the past seven years.
Both have all the resources at Hendrick Motorsports to be successful, but neither have found a way to reach – and stay at – the same level as their teammate, Jimmie Johnson.
IF THEY REBUILD IT, WILL THEY COME?
Several tracks, including Daytona, are going through massive rebuilding projects to enhance the overall experience.
Grandstands are being torn down; older seats are being replaced with wider, more comfortable seats; interactive fan zones are being added to make race day more than just a race; and, massive television screens are being erected to make races visible from outer space.
WILL THAT BE ENOUGH TO BRING FANS BACK?
Television saw some modest increases in ratings, reversing a trend that lasted for more than five years.
Tracks are hoping big facelifts will lure fans back to the track as well.
ALSO WORTH KEEPING AN EYE ON
There are other stories to keep in mind. Like:
• Can Martin Truex Jr. continue the success Kurt Busch brought to Furniture Row Racing last year?
• Can Jimmie Johnson win his seventh championship in nine years?
• Can Ford, particularly Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing, bounce back after a disappointing 2013?
• How will the return of the No. 3 to the Sprint Cup Series for the first time since Earnhardt’s death play out?