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Is 2015 crunch time for Danica Patrick?
The off-season is the perfect time to review drivers' performances and Danica Patrick's name keeps coming up. Patrick begins her third full NSCS season and still has people questioning her ability to continue racing in NASCAR’s premiere series. Her contract runs through 2015, and a renewal is in the “speculation” bubble. Will she be offered an extension or will her career go in a new direction?
Patrick ran 82 NSCS races with an average finish of 25.3 and 61 Nationwide Series races with an average finish of 21.1. She steadily improved both years she ran in Cup, but how long will it take her to be a top-20 driver?
To her credit, Patrick brings a lot of money into the sport, and her fan base continues to grow by leaps and bounds every year. If she can’t make it to that next level, will Stewart-Haas Racing let her go or keep her -- perhaps for business reasons? Only time will tell.
Expanded field announced for the 2015 Sprint Unlimited
NASCAR announced they will open the 2015 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona to a minimum of 25 drivers. It will now include all 2014 Chase contenders, 2014 Coors Light Pole Award winners and former Sprint Unlimited winners. The most notable change is former Daytona 500 pole winners will compete.
This announcement opened the flood gates on social media focusing on Danica Patrick. The first female to capture the prestigious pole in 2013, this new opportunity reignited the question of whether NASCAR changed the rules for her. But other competitors benefited from the changes, too. Drivers who would have been sidelined, but are now eligible to race based on a Daytona 500 pole, include Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. The biggest surprise may be Brian Scott, who won a pole in 2014 at Talladega. Perhaps the expanded field will make for better racing in the Sprint Unlimited.
Brian Vickers suffers another setback
On Monday, Michael Waltrip Racing announced Brian Vickers, who has been fighting health issues for some time, will miss the first part of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season due to heart-related matters. Vickers had surgery because his body rejected an artificial heart patch placed in 2010. This development puts MWR in a precarious position, scrambling for a replacement driver with less than two months until the Daytona 500.
Who will be Vickers' replacement driver? Veteran Mark Martin would be a great choice. However, Martin is aligned with Roush Fenway Racing for 2015, which could create a conflict of interest.
Sprint says goodbye
Sprint announced 2016 will be its last year as NASCAR's primary sponsor, ending a successful partnership with the sport that began when Sprint merged with Nextel in 2004. Sprint's tenure in NASCAR was a time of many changes in the sport, including revamping qualifying and the Chase format. On the technology side of racing, fans saw the introduction of the FanVision® scanner. On the fan interaction front, Miss Sprint Cup reached many followers on social media in her role as an ambassador.
Who will be the next series sponsor? Many are speculating car manufacturers may collaborate to share sponsorship. Some say a major credit card company or another wireless service provider -- perhaps Verizon -- may step in. Verizon has the largest wireless network and could bring new technology to the tracks. A major credit card company would be relevant because fans utilize credit when making purchases of race tickets, merchandise or overnight accommodations.
If a global hotel chain became the major sponsor of NASCAR, it could create a relationship with fans and maybe provide an avenue for discounted hotel rates on race weekends. This could be a win-win situation, creating fan loyalty to the chain, even outside of race events.
Darrell Wallace Jr. has a new home
As of Thursday, Darrell Wallace Jr. has a new ride with Roush Fenway Racing in the XFINITY Series. He joins Elliott Sadler, Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed. Wallace Jr. will pilot the No. 6 Ford with a primary sponsor to be announced at a later date. He'll have veteran teammate Sadler and retired driver Mark Martin to mentor him.