Friday, February 27, 2015

The Real Season Opener: Five Questions for Atlanta


(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Daytona is nice and all, but it isn’t the real beginning.

Well, it’s technically the start, yes. It’s the first race of the season, and it’s where points are accumulated. This doesn’t mean the season starts here.

Restrictor plate tracks are full of tricks and luck. They feel more like exhibition events than anything. It’s not fair to count the results, yet that’s what makes it thrilling.

No, the real season opener is now lovely Atlanta Motor Speedway, the gorgeous gem of Georgia. This is where we see who’s here to fight and who’s here to fake it out.

Let the real games begin. Here are this week’s Five Questions.

Does the inclement weather prove the Atlanta move was a bad idea? “Hotlanta” is no more. A heavy snowstorm paralyzed parts of the southeast, just in time for NASCAR’s visit. Many drivers, media members, and fans are pointing to this as proof that the schedule change wasn’t the best move. One little mishap doesn’t bruise the event’s entire complexion. We live in a world full of overreaction and hollow privilege. Driving to Georgia instead of flying isn’t the end of the world. Stop acting like it is.

Can Hendrick dominance return at a meaningful venue? This track marked Jeff Gordon’s entrance into the NASCAR world, and this weekend is his final visit as a full-time competitor. The living legend is only one facet of Hendrick Motorsports’ success at the 1.5-mile track. Kasey Kahne won the final Labor Day race there, locking him into The Chase in the nick of time. Then again, he’s always been good there. Teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are also decent. The six-time champion has three wins, 12 top-fives, and 14 top-10s. The 2014 Daytona 500 winner has one win, 8 top-fives, and 12 top-10s. With that in mind, does it seem like the organization will thrive at the “real” season opener? It’s very likely. HMS was powerful at Daytona International Speedway, and that nothing new. Counting this four-car stable out isn’t the smartest idea. The only issue may be how they (and the entire field) adjust to the new competition rules. Other than that, watch out.

How will the competition changes influence the racing? Those previously mentioned competition changes go into effect this weekend. The various adjustments include reduced horsepower, a shorter spoiler, and deregulation of lug nuts on pit stops. These changes are bound to affect the racing, but will it be for the better? Right now, it’s unclear; the lug nut rule will lead to teams risking in and having loose wheels. In response, there’s now a penalty associated with a wheel falling off during the race. The most exciting thing, however, is the reduction of horsepower. This will lead to closer racing, which should pump up everyone. We’ll see how it goes, but it will take multiple races to see the full effect.

Logano: True winner or luckiest guy alive? Last Sunday produced a fresh result; Joey Logano won his first Daytona 500, taking the checkered flag under caution. Yeah, the last part is accurate. A crash occurred on the backstretch, and NASCAR threw the yellow flag. Fans were instantly outraged, saying the end killed the action. So, did the race play into his favor? The win was most certainly earned. Logano was good all week, and Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick wouldn’t have caught him regardless. Besides, his win is the most just out of those three. The caution didn’t change anything.

What do you think will be the big story this season? This year has the makings of a fantastic season, and that’s evident this early on. I want to know what you think will be the story of the season. Will it be Gordon’s retirement? Logano riding momentum? Let me know!

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