Budweiser Speedweeks Story Lines
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on February 14, 2014 | 10:00 A.M. EST
Austin Dillon's No. 3 Chevrolet is unloaded from the hauler at Daytona on Friday morning. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
There will be more than enough stories to follow when Budweiser Speedweeks kicks off at Daytona International Speedway this weekend.
The time to talk is over and the 2014 NASCAR season will officially begin with the traditional trip to “The World Center of Racing.” After one of the most important off-seasons in the sport’s history that featured a variety of changes and modifications, the roar of engines will finally take center stage.
Sprint Cup Series cars take to the historic 2.5-mile track for Sprint Unlimited practice Friday afternoon and will officially kick-off what should be a very interesting ten days in Daytona.
Here are just a few of the more intriguing developments to watch unfold from now until the 56th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 23:
New Sprint Cup Rules Package
The 2014 rules package for NASCAR’s top division only means a slightly taller spoiler for superspeedway racing at Daytona and Talladega. Based on last month’s Preseason Thunder test session, drivers have a little more control than they did a year ago when the Gen-6 Sprint Cup car made its Daytona debut. It remains to be seen whether the racing will be impacted by the change. Many fans weren’t enamored by last year’s 500, which featured more single file than side-by-side racing.
RIP Tandem Drafting
Nationwide Series and Camping World truck Series drivers will no longer be able to tandem draft thanks to NASCAR’s new mandate outlawing the practice. While bump drafting is still allowed, any cars or trucks hooked up in the tandem that has been the norm in recent years, will be black flagged by officials. It won’t matter if a driver is the pusher or being pushed, tandems are now officially a thing of the past. The new policy has the potential of forcing NASCAR officials into making some controversial calls next weekend.
New Qualifying Procedure
Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series teams will also be in the spotlight for NASCAR’s revised group qualifying format. Sprint Cup Series teams will continue to use the traditional Daytona qualifying system with single car runs deciding the front row on Sunday and then next week’s new prime time Budweiser Duel 150-mile races determining the 500 starting lineup. But the three round knockout-qualifying format makes its debut in setting up the Nationwide and Truck Series season openers. You can bet every Sprint Cup Series driver and crew chief will be watching those sessions.
Win and You're In
NASCAR's new Chase for the Sprint Cup format means the winner of the Daytona 500 more than likely punches a ticket into the playoffs. A win in the first 16 races of the season by a driver who maintains 30th or better in the standings is the criteria for making the Chase under the new format. Winning "The Great American Race" now has an even added importance.
Return of the No. 3
There will no doubt be more than a few less than dry eyes when Austin Dillon brings the legendary No. 3 back to the Sprint Cup Series when he rolls out onto the track. The number made famous by Dale Earnhardt hasn’t been used in NASCAR’s top series since he lost his life in the 2001 Daytona 500. Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, has carried the number to championships in both the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series. But now it returns to Sprint Cup and is sure to evoke memories and emotion, both good and bad, for many fans.
The three-time Sprint Cup champion makes a return of his own after being sidelined since last August after breaking his leg in a sprint car crash last summer. Although Stewart fully admits he won’t be anywhere near 100 percent, he has no plans for a back-up driver and expects to race competitively as he continues the recovery process. He’ll also have a new supporting cast at Stewart-Haas Racing including crew chief Chad Johnston as well as teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.
Danica – Year Number Two
She’s already been in the spotlight this week thanks to Richard Petty’s controversial comments and now Danica Patrick embarks on her sophomore Sprint Cup Series campaign. Patrick captured the world’s attention during last year’s Speedweeks when she became the first woman in history to win the Daytona 500 pole. She backed that up with a solid run in the 500 and was in contention to win until the final laps. But her best finish the rest of the season was 12th and after posting only one top 10 performance, Patrick wound up 27th in the final standings. However she has the chance to be competitive again at Daytona this time around and if so will no doubt once again generate interest with mainstream and general sports media.