As the short NASCAR Sprint Cup plows forward toward February, it’s not unusual for folks to speculate on what might happen in the coming season or, in some cases, before.
After all, many changes have taken place and others are anticipated. Make no mistake they will have their effect. The question is, in each instance, what will that be?
Several changes are technological and competitive in nature and some are personal. But they all pique our interest and, indeed, could have a bearing on what we see in 2015.
The obvious question is how will the rule changes for 2015 affect racing? If we go by the recent Goodyear tire testing at Charlotte, the answer is: We don’t know yet.
Some drivers felt there was little change in the feel and handling of the cars from 2014. Others said they noticed the cars were “more free,” indicating a loss of downforce.
Actually, no one will get a very good sense of what all the rule changes mean until they get some time on the track – and in actual competition.
Once that happens some teams will find the changes very beneficial while others will struggle, at least for a while. That’s the way it’s always been.
My prediction? Most of the rule changes, not all, are neither as dramatic nor as plentiful as they have been in the past. I think the issues they may create are going to be relatively small.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a terrific 2014 season with four victories, including the Daytona 500, and an eighth-place in the final point standings.
He was also named the Most Popular Driver, again, and was the winner of the prestigious National Motorsports Press Association’s Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contributions to racing.
He never had an inkling he would receive such an award.
However, Earnhardt Jr.’s on-track achievements were compiled under the direction of crew chief Steve Letarte. Letarte will not be back. He’s become a member of the NBA race broadcast crew.
Letarte’s replacement is Greg Ives. A former engineer for Jimmie Johnson, last season Ives was at Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports where he guided Chase Elliott to the Xfinity (formerly Nationwide) Series championship.
His pedigree sounds pretty darn good to me. And his familiarity with Hendrick Motorsports bodes well.
But you know how it works with a driver and a new crew chief. Nothing matters until they become good buddies and post good numbers.
Trust me, the “Junior Nation” will be watching.
Tony Stewart’s 2014 season was a black hole. Let’s put aside the tragic incident in New York – which Stewart will never forget.
Instead, there are questions about his health. Stewart suffered a broken leg in a 2013 Sprint Car accident and to see him limp around the garage area told us he was not fully recovered.
Stewart underwent a fifth operation, called routine, just weeks after the 2014 season ended.
Well, most likely because of the tragedy in New York and lingering physical shortcomings, in 2014 Stewart had the worst season of his career. He failed to win a race for the first time in 15 years.
Stewart Haas Racing is behind its driver and says he will be ready for 2015.
Really? He’s 43 years old and coming off an emotionally draining season and a fifth surgery.
That’s a lot to overcome. And it’s fair to say many will watch to see if Stewart can do it.
Let’s get even more personal.
Police are still investigating the charges that Kurt Busch assaulted his ex-girlfriend on Sept. 26 in Dover. A judge will decide on Dec. 16 if a restraining order should be issued against him.
It seems likely Busch will know his fate before the Daytona 500. NASCAR Chairman Brian France has stated no sanctions will be taken until police complete their investigation.
So Busch’s career is, in fact, in limbo. That has to be a nerve-wracking situation.
To tell the truth, it always is when your fate is in someone else’s hands.
More to come.