So far in 2015, the notable points of interest for a NASCAR fan are incredibly, shall we say, light. Other than today’s press conference with Jeff Gordon announcing his retirement after the 2015 season (Which may seem like news but was predictable), the only tidbits to hit the wire so far include that same Jeff Gordon auctioning the last race car he won with Ray Evernham, Dale Earnhardt Jr selling a couple of classics from his personal collection on EBay, and of course, the ongoing Kurt Busch saga. While a certain segment of motorsports fans may like seeing wrecks, there is nothing entertaining with the public spectacle (Kurt Busch) that has become of The Outlaw and The Mercenary (Coming SOON on TruTV!).
Bring back the Preseason Thunder, please.
With the moratorium on independent testing this year, and thus by extension the unceremonious cancellation of Preseason Thunder, NASCAR has inadvertently created a vortex of nothing. Typically, by now the fans and media have seen the first true ‘preseason’ appearances at Daytona in preparation for the Super Bowl of Motorsports, and while testing has never produced a definitive ‘who’s who’ of the upcoming season, there was always something to talk about, to keep even the most fervent fans updated and most of the media people covering the sport employed. Not so much this year.
All across the landscape, the news has been scant, as there is nothing to report. Instead of hearing about single car versus pack speeds, tire notes, restrictor plate tweaks, we are instead delighted with overzealous reporting of personal appearance promotions, such as Gordon winning a trike race and, well, that’s about it.
No one is complaining, least of all anyone who has the privilege of writing or covering this sport, though it can be difficult to find something new and different to write about. The benefits in this instance far outweigh the negative consequences, if the results can barely be considered a negative. Consider that the NASCAR season by far is the longest of any professional sport, running 10 out of 12 months. Who is opposed to actually giving drivers and crew 3-4 weeks back? Truly, when taken into consideration, the economic impact to Daytona Beach, a town that was founded on speed but built and strengthened on tourist dollars, is practically nil.
Not that the time is all spent promoting the new grandstands at Daytona or doing commercials for the upcoming season, or hunting big game or taking ‘Twitter Trips’ (Dale Jr was fun to follow on Twitter for a couple of weeks). By the way, the grandstand construction is THE reason we have no Preseason Thunder. Expect Preseason Thunder to be back next year. More time in the shop means more time to fabricate, build and simulate, which is time that can be used elsewhere in the season for whatever purpose that is needed. Luck, they say, is where preparation and opportunity meet, and therefore the more prepared the teams, the luckier they get.
Yet, there is an upside, albeit a small one. When Speedweeks finally kicks off, there will be a myriad of unknowns to watch. Reduced horsepower and spoilers will impact qualifying and practice, and teams will be scrambling to find ways to implement the knowledge they pick up on the track during practices. In other words, there will be a plethora of ‘Unknown unknowns’. Whereas preseason testing provided a baseline of speeds and handling with known tire combinations, this will be the first time cars have been on the track in qualifying and race trim, which should result in teams finding speed unexpectedly. So in the past, the reports coming from Daytona Beach were either a continuation or confirmation of known stories, there should be some brand new events to captivate and fascinate those that follow the sport.
But the results should be well worth the wait. It should, as NASCAR has long hoped, increase the parity of competition across the board. Of course, this statement only applies to the Daytona 500, where restrictor plates, pack racing and pure unadulterated luck affect the racing. But with no team showing up at the track with a clear advantage, qualifying should produce some surprises, the qualifying races will be worth more, and even the modified (or, hand-picked) Bud Shootout should provide some valuable insight and data for the upcoming race.
So sit tight, NASCAR fans. While the next 4 weeks may seem a bit longer than normal, by the time the checkered flag waves at Daytona, the wait will be well worth it.
Unless you miss Danica photobombs. In which case I don’t know what to tell you.