Friday, February 20, 2015

Miracles: Five Questions for Daytona

(Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Christmas usually holds that title, but this is NASCAR’s holiday season. If you don’t think thundering race cars are the greatest gift of all, then you need to get out. Families converge and take in this special weekend with excitement and appreciation. After three harsh months, the drought is finally over.

This is also when miracles tend to happen. Daytona International Speedway produces surprise winners and fantastic memories. Sunday’s warranted prestige lives up to expectations time and time again. One miracle will occur late that afternoon, when a driver wins the Daytona 500.

Within the euphoria, that driver checks an item off his or her bucket list and becomes a part of history.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty dang wonderful to me.

The new season brings back Five Questions, and I’m absolutely thrilled for what’s to come. It’s time to talk about Jeff Gordon, each individual series and rebuilding. Here are five questions for Daytona.

Why does this week feel different? Out of all the race weekends on the schedule, I think this one is always the best; everything is new and fresh once again. As we fall under its mesmerizing spell, I have to wonder why this season in particular feels so different. Whether it’s from the pre-season chatter or the tiring off-season, I’m not sure. It simply feels more thrilling. Maybe it’s just me; I can’t wait until the season is officially underway.

How will Gordon perform in his final season? The beginning to the end of a legendary tale starts now. Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon announced in January that he won’t run full-time after this season. For many young fans, he was the legend they grew up watching, battling with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson as the torch was passed. The focus now turns to how his last season will be remembered. HMS will do all they can to help him end on a high note, no doubt. There’s also no way Gordon lets opportunities go. He will do all he can to go out on top because that’s what he – and his illustrious career — deserves.

What should we expect from each series? This is a tough question to answer. By definition, the sport of NASCAR is unpredictable. That’s the point. The top three levels, however, developed their own personalities over time. This makes it easier to set expectations for each one. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is the wild child of the group, and it will remain that way for a long time. Young drivers keep filtering in, looking for their chance to shine. That makes for recklessness and underdog stories. On the other side of the spectrum, the NASCAR XFINITY Series has the task of rebranding itself. With a new title sponsor, now is the chance to mature. There’s a preconceived notion about NXS, especially when it comes to NSCS drivers hogging all the victories. It’s time to see what the series will turn into next, morphing into a newer version of itself. Finally, the party is here with the NSCS. Last year’s Chase format was a hit, and it sets teams up for a year of stiff competition. The idea that consistency wins championships is long gone. Everyone needs to create a game plan and stick to it. This isn’t the time to slack; the season is already here.

Can teams rebound from disappointing 2014 runs? As great at last year was for some, others want to forget about it. Those who were disappointed are already feeling the pressure to shine. Drivers such as Danica Patrick, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Matt Kenseth struggled to find the perfect rhythm. Case in point, only one of those four drivers won in 2014. There’s also some added incentive for one of this bunch because Patrick’s contract is up at the end of 2015. Her performances over the past three years failed to impress, so she needs to kick it into high gear. In fact, all the drivers mentioned are in need of a revival. Let’s get it together.

Who will be the 2015 winner of the Daytona 500? Alright, this is the only questions that matters! Choosing a winner is difficult because of the various factors that go into the event. The Big One could swoop in and destroy the best-running machines. Engines could expire and result in heartbreak. A furry creature could scamper across the track and become a hole in someone’s front end. Daytona is NASCAR speak for "luck," because you need a crap-ton of it to win The Great American Race. With all that said, I’m taking a shot in the dark and choosing a Ford to win. Joey Logano showed a lot of growth over the last season and isn’t slowing down. It’ll be a miracle if I’m actually right.


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