Changes: Personal And Professional Herald 2015 Season

Tony Stewart had a dismal 2014 season and afterward had a fifth surgery on the broken leg he suffered in 2013. Can he come back from adversity to have a good 2015 season?

Tony Stewart had a dismal 2014 season and afterward had a fifth surgery on the broken leg he suffered in 2013. Can he come back from adversity to have a good 2015 season?

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.

Kurt Busch is currently being investigated for an assault on his ex-girlfriend. This situation builds pressure because the results may determine the fate of his career.

Kurt Busch is currently being investigated for an assault on his ex-girlfriend. This situation builds pressure because the results may determine the fate of his career.

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.





NASCAR Changing Again: Is it for The Fans or Manufacturers?

NASCAR CEO Brian France.

Is it now NASCAR’s turn to move towards a more eco-friendly type of racing or are the recently announced “Massive” changes coming to the sport economically driven? That’s a hell of a big question and not one easily answered. But let’s speculate, this is, after all, an opinion column.

Once again the manufacturers seem to be pushing an agenda in the United States. Forget about the rest of the motor racing world, that train has left the station. Just take a quick look at Formula One. It’s all manufacturer driven to showcase their technology under the flag of environmentalism and regenerative power.

In NASCAR’s case, it’s a reduction in horsepower and economics, so they’re saying.

According to Brian France, NASCAR’s CEO: “We’re going to make that happen, and that’s part of the overall rules packages that we design that hopefully control costs, hopefully make the racing better,” France said. “The engine is an integral part of that.

We also have to be in step as much as possible with the car manufacturers and where they’re going with technology and different things. It all has to come together, and that’s the next significant part of the rules package. The engine will get a significant change. I’m not going to say (for) ’15, but we are certainly sizing that up. It’s very important for us to get that right.”

The important code code phrase here is ‘be in step as much as possible with the car manufacturers’. The word deep behind the scenes is that Ford would be in favor of going to an Eco-Boost style of engine that could be a V-6 with a supercharger.

If this seems strange it shouldn’t. Not one manufacturer wants to be caught out of the fuel consumption, energy efficient game, even when it comes to motorsports. Is there a day when we might see NASCAR employ an ERS (Energy Recovery System) similar to Formula One and World Endurance cars? It’s not out of the question if that’s what the manufacturers want and it can be done economically. Yes, that’s an oxymoron.

Just when they seem to have the Gen 6 car about right, they float that famous trial balloon to see what the fan base is going to say. Or, more accurately, what the consumers are going to say.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition and Racing Development. 

Granted, it’s expensive to produce the horsepower that the modern Gen 6 car engines produce. Pushing 900 horsepower does seem to be a bit of overkill in these cars, but it certainly separates the cruisers from the real wheelmen.

According to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition and Racing Development said::

“It’s some about economics, and there are some who think that if you knocked a little bit of horsepower out, it could put you in a position to make the racing better,” said Pemberton. “But there’s a lot of things that go into it.

There’s the mechanical grip and the tire grip and the aerodynamic grip and engine horsepower. Every one thing you change, you have to adjust everything around it to make it right. There’s some sort of balance in there. So, if you do a horsepower change, there’s a better than not chance that you will have to adjust aerodynamics, and that may give you the ability to adjust tires. So it’s a three-legged stool. You just have to work on them all.”

Ford’s EcoBoost engine.

To support the proposed changes the manufacturers chimed in:

“If it truly does potentially help the racing and then help durability on the back end, I think it’s not a bad thing to do,” said Pat Suhy, NASCAR Group Manager for Chevrolet Racing. “It’s probably going to be a fairly extensive change, a bigger change than first imagined. As you talk to the engine builders, it impacts everything from the oil pan to the intake manifold to the exhaust headers.

I’m in favor of change when it can make things better, so I’m hopeful that it can actually make things better.”

Says Ford:

“We are actively involved with NASCAR on strategic competition and business considerations and support NASCAR’s efforts to work with the manufacturers to continually evolve the sport,” said Jamie Allison, Director, Ford Racing.

Change is inevitable and almost always for the better, in the long run. But what to do about the Nationwide Series? Will we see 400 horsepower V8’s or will we go back to the V6 era.

From the manufacturers point of view, if they can get smaller engines in, all the better for Green living and good government.

Don’t be surprised that a regenerative power plant will become the norm in NASCAR in the next decade.

It’s what the manufacturers want.


Changes May Be Coming, But Does NASCAR Need All Of Them?

If Jimmie Johnson wants to win a seventh career championship in 2014, he may have to earn it through a revamped Chase.

Almost every time NASCAR makes competitive changes I can’t help thinking that it is doing so for a couple of reasons.

Notice I said “almost every time.” There have been more than a few instances where NASCAR altered something that needed altering.

But I still get the notion that the sanctioning body does what it does because, first, it is trying desperately to return to the lofty popularity it once enjoyed and, second, it is seeking new fans of a younger demographic.

To be frank, there really isn’t anything wrong with that. But it makes NASCAR look like it doesn’t know what to do with stock car racing; it seems to be unsettled and to have lost its way.

When you consider how many times NASCAR has altered how a driver can win a championship you might think the same thing.

Although nothing official has yet been said, it appears NASCAR is going to do it again.

The Chase is going to have an entirely new look.

By this time most of you know what’s planned, so there is no need to go into detail. But to summarize the Chase will consist of 16 drivers – all winners if possible – and be staged in elimination rounds that would take place after the third, sixth and ninth race of the Chase.

Then there is a winner-take-all at the final race of the season, at Homestead.

This comes well after the switch to the Chase format in 2004 and the several tweaks that followed. Changes have included increasing the number of drivers in the “playoff,” changing the number of points awarded per position and bonuses for victories.

Now I fully believe NASCAR will make the changes to improve competition. But at the same time it seeks to increase its dwindling appeal to the public – if decreasing television ratings in recent years are indeed evidence of that.

NASCAR CEO Brian France has already said changes are coming to NASCAR and it appears they will happen to qualifying and the Chase.

This as yet “unofficial” change to the Chase is a far cry from any simple championship system. It resembles a true “playoff” system, like that in college basketball, where we go from 32 teams to the “Sweet 16” to the “Elite Eight” and then the “Final Four.”

My thinking is that NASCAR knows this and has hopes that it can match the proven fan appeal of basketball, or even the pro football playoffs, for that matter.

Does NASCAR need a process of elimination whereby four drivers have a shot at the championship in the final race of the year? No.

That is no guarantee to spurn fan interest. Heck, fans are already upset over the possibility of a winner-take-all finale. A driver could have the most wins and top-five finishes for the season, wreck on the last lap at Homestead and lose the championship.

Many, many fans have expressed their distaste for the Chase ever since it was created. How do you think they are going to react over this latest proposal?

They are going to say that having four guys race for a championship (one of them may be so far ahead in accumulated points it’s not a four-man race at all), while 39 others cruise around the track is senseless.

I will say that I favor bonus points for victories. I believe that, in all honesty, is all NASCAR needs to do. I think that when drivers realize there is a significant award for winning a race, they’ll press harder to do just that. Could make for a more competitive, dramatic scenario.

After all, a single victory could make all the difference.

And keep awarding victory bonus points throughout the Chase. Now, it’s true that a driver might win five of the 10 Chase races and absolutely pummel the field.

By golly, if he can do that, he deserves to deliver his good, old-fashioned butt kicking.

But that is going to be rare.

NASCAR does not need to manufacture “elimination rounds” to create drama and possibly lure newcomers.

It needs to fixate on what it’s got – cars defying physics by going 200 mph and driven by men and women who have clearly lost their minds.

It needs to promote its competitors by letting them be themselves – nearly all of them are blessed with personality and wit – and quit punishing them for what they say on Twitter.

I applaud NASCAR’s efforts to tweak the Gen 6 car to improve competition on the 1.5-mile tracks, where it has been sorely lacking. That is exactly what it should do.

But it shouldn’t “manufacture” competition. I believe there is no need. I believe it does no good for the sanctioning body’s image.

If the proposed new Chase system comes into existence we will have to accept it. It might just do what it’s intended to do, spice up competition and lure new fans.

But what it is going to happen, for sure, is many of the long-time fans’ notions that NASCAR is too darn “gimmicky” will intensify. And they may reach the conclusion it’s no longer worth watching.





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