Are you ready to hear the roar of the engines and see all of your favorite drivers back on track? If you’re reading this, chances are you know already that the time for NASCAR’s return is drawing nearer and nearer. This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to competition with the Budweiser Shootout. While there won’t be a full 43 car field, most of the star drivers will be in it and fans everywhere will be satisfying their racing fix.
Here are some questions on my mind heading into the race…
Are there too many drivers in the Shootout? … Currently there are 24 drivers on the entry list for the Budweiser Shootout, over half of the normal 43 car field race fans are used to seeing. The eligibility rules have changed several times over the past few seasons, and if you’re having trouble keeping up with all the changes, here are the rules this year:
· All 12 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders
· Past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions
· Past Budweiser Shootout champions
· Past Daytona points race winners
· Any NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year winners from 2001-2010
Because of all the ways a driver can qualify for a position in the Budweiser Shootout, the field has grown significantly and will feel more like a normal race rather than a non-points all-star event.
However, there’s no reason to think that the amount of drivers in the race will decrease the excitement of the actual event. After all, more cars equal more chances for action, more drafting opportunities, and more bumping and banging! Isn’t that what we want?
Fact: The largest number of drivers in a given Budweiser Shootout race was 29 back in 2009. The least amount was seven back in 1981.
How will the new surface hold up? … The biggest story heading into the race will be the Daytona surface, and how the fresh batch of asphalt will affect the racing. It’s hard to forget the pothole incident that caused over two hours in delays in the Daytona 500 last season, forcing the racetrack to replace the entire racing surface—including pit road.
Reviews from two testing sessions over the offseason were generally positive, though. In fact, almost every, driver, and crew chief is promising a crazy and exciting racing.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
How quickly will fans adjust to driver changes? … New faces in new places are something race fans have to deal with at the start of every new season, and this year is no different. Among the drivers we will see in their debut race with their new numbers are Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch.
Kahne is coming off of a rather tense season with former team Richard Petty Motorsports. Kahne moved over to Red Bull Racing with five races left in the season, where he will remain for all of 2011 before moving over to Hendrick Motorsports in 2010. Kahne took over for Brian Vickers—who had been sidelined due to blood clots—in the No. 83 car for the last few races of the season. Kahne moves over to the No. 4 car for 2011 with sponsor Red Bull.
Busch remains with Penske Racing, but will be in a new car with a new sponsor this year. While Brad Keselowski is taking over his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, Busch will now be behind the wheel of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge for Penske Racing. Shell Pennzoil is moving over from Richard Childress Racing’s No. 29 Chevrolet driven by Kevin Harvick.
Among some other changes are Michael Waltrip in the No. 15 NAPA Toyota and Kevin Conway in the No. 97 Extenze Toyota.
What will the ratings be like? … And how will they compare to last year? Since the recession began, there’s been more and more attention paid to the television ratings. This year’s race will be broadcast on FOX, which means anyone with a television should be able to tune in. Last year’s race had 8.18 million viewers. In 2009, there were 8.3 million viewers.
Fans have been very vocal about their discontent with the state of the sport. However, NASCAR continues to make changes and we should have a good gauge of their reactions this coming Saturday.
When will the “Big One” occur? … Anyone who knows anything about restrictor plate racing knows that every driver, crew member, etc. dreads the “Big One.” Typically, in any restrictor plate race, the close bumper-to-bumper driving has a tendency to get dicey. One wrong move and a driver can cause a massive pileup.
Last year, the big one occurred on the final lap of the race, collecting eight cars. However, there had been plenty of other wrecks that day and no one is safe at Daytona.
Let me say this, dear readers: It felt GREAT to write another five questions column. It’s been a long wait, but I have a feeling that the 2011 season will be worth it. Live coverage begins Saturday, February 12th at 8PM ET on FOX and 7PM ET on MRN Radio.
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author.