Welcome to the new 2016 NASCAR season. The time has come to get strapped in and find out who is going to take home the big checkered flag trophy at the end of the year. There has been no shortage of off-season news leading into Daytona this year, beginning when one driver who is already set to retire at the end of the year now sitting on the sidelines with an off-season back injury.
Unfortunately, that driver is one Tony Stewart, who now is sitting out Daytona for the first time, and last time, in his career.
At the same time, there have been major changes in the NASCAR community during the off-season, three of which I will review here.
CHASE FORMAT FOR ALL SERIES
We have seen how the Chase has worked in the top tier series for NASCAR the last two years, and the success that it has produced in the racing, the competition, and even some controversy. Now, along with the Sprint Cup Series, both the Xfinity Series and Camping World Trucks will get their own Chase for the Championship.
In the Xfinity Series, instead of 16 drivers, their Chase will be among 12, with it encompassing the final seven races of the year.
The Chase rounds will be a round of 12, then eight, and finally four. Just like in years past, Sprint Cup drivers are ineligible to get points in the series. What is also added this year is all 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers are ineligible to compete in the Championship race. The Xfinity Series also has its own race within a season, the Dash 4 Cash, series of races. In those events, if a driver wins two of those events, that is equivalent to a regular season victory, but will not count towards race win bonus points.
The Camping World Trucks are following the exact same format, except instead of 12 drivers competing over seven races, it will be eight drivers. They will have a round of eight, then six, then the Championship 4.
As with the Cup Chase format, in the final race of the year in the Xfinity Series and Camping World Trucks, the driver in the Chase that finishes the highest will claim the championship.
NASCAR CHARTER SYSTEM
Among the biggest changes in the off season is NASCAR introducing a charter system for the Sprint Cup Series. What it means is that there are many organizations that compete on a regular basis, especially the multi-car teams, have a guaranteed starting spot each week.
This also means a reduction in how many cars are in the field. Instead of the common 43-car field we have seen for many years, the field is now reduced down to 40 cars.
In that field, 36 charter teams will have a guaranteed starting spot, and the final four will be among open competition.
The charters were automatically given to teams that have competed on a full-time basis for the last four seasons, and if necessary, teams are able to purchase another charter for one of their full-time teams. This has already been done with the original charters of the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing. One charter was purchased by Stewart-Haas Racing for the No. 41 team of Kurt Busch, and the other going to Joe Gibbs Racing for the No. 19 team of Carl Edwards.
At the same time, this means some teams that want to go full time, or don’t have the money to purchase a charter, now have to compete to be among the fastest four to make the field.
This is a big issue for a team like the Wood Brothers, because they are going full-time in competition this year, but NASCAR would not grant them a charter due to the fact they have run a part-time schedule for the last few seasons. So, sophomore driver Ryan Blaney now must race his way in every week to make the field. In their mind, it’s unfair to that team, and it ultimately made them leave the new NASCAR Team Alliance.
It reduces the field, but in the end it gives the teams that are constantly competing a guaranteed chance to be in the race.
NASCAR OVERTIME OVERHAUL
The one change that is both good for the fans, and probably more frustrating for the drivers is the major change in what NASCAR is calling “overtime.” For a while now, the rule in the sport was there would be three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. Should the leader take the white flag, the next flag ends the race.
This was changed last fall for Talladega, where only one attempt would be made. However, it turned into carnage and controversy when a wreck happened before the start, then again afterwards. Questions of if it was a legal start were brought up, and if the wreck was intentionally done to save positions in the Chase.
Now, NASCAR’s overtime has gotten some major changes.
Beginning this year, NASCAR has set up an “overtime line” for each of the tracks. For Daytona, that line has been placed directly in the middle of the backstretch, extending the start/finish line the entire way across the track.
When the leader takes the green flag to start the green-white-checkered procedure, the overtime restart begins. If the caution flag waves before the leader crosses that overtime line, the restart is not considered a valid attempt, and NASCAR will reset the field and do it again. Unlike years ago, where only three attempts are made, NASCAR will continue to attempt to make a clean restart to consider it a valid attempt.
If the leader passes the overtime line, NASCAR will declare that a clean restart. Should a caution flag wave after that point, the field is frozen, whether the white flag has been waved or not. If the caution comes before the white flag is out, the field will complete the final lap under caution.
With unlimited attempts to have a green-flag finish, this could be costly because of fuel mileage, frustration, or eagerness to get the race finished. This is apparent especially at the plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega, where so much of the racing is outside of the drivers’ control.
It is a major change, as well as all the other major changes implemented this season for the sport. Welcome to a new campaign, and let’s hit the track together.
RESULTS: 1-Hamlin 2-Logano 3-Menard 4-Larson 5-Mears 6-Stenhouse 7-Kurt Busch 8-Dillon 9-Keselowski 10-Biffle
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Kenseth 15-Earnhardt Jr. 17-Kyle Busch 22-Johnson 25-Harvick
CAUTIONS: 7 for 25 laps. Laps 14-17 (#17, 11 Accident-T2); 24-29 (#14, 15, 16, 4, 88, 47, 41 Accident-T1); 45-47 (#13, 48 Accident-BS); 58-61 (#1, 5, 47, 31 Accident-BS); 67-69 (Fluid On The Track); 74-77 (#2, 18, 13, 19, 43 Accident-BS); 79-79 (#78, 20, 1, 16, 2, 10 Accident-T1).
LEAD CHANGES: 12 among 3 drivers. J. Johnson POLE, B. Keselowski 1-10; J. McMurray 11-24; B. Keselowski 25; D. Hamlin 26-32; B. Keselowski 33; D. Hamlin 34-35; B. Keselowski
36-47; D. Hamlin 48-51; B. Keselowski 52; D. Hamlin 53-62; B. Keselowski 63; D. Hamlin 64-79.
TIME OF RACE: 1 Hr, 32 Mins, 19 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 128.432 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: Under Caution