NASCAR has seen tremendous change over the last decade. Once the sport’s rise came to a halt and the recession struck, stock car racing struggled. As a result, the sport began making changes and took a turn late in the first decade of the new century. However, the adjustments made then weren’t very effective.
Nearly a decade later, the changes NASCAR has implemented over the last four years are beginning to pay off. As excitement soars, the on-track product is improved, and the competition level reaches new heights, a new era has dawned for the sport.
This has provided unprecedented optimism heading into the new season as a decade of change is coming together to lead the sport into the future. With the implementation of the low downforce package and the Charter system among other improvements, 2016 has the potential to be the greatest season in quite some time.
The beginning of this new era began to take shape when NASCAR announced the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format in 2014. In a search to add more excitement to the playoffs and generate more attention, this new procedure to crown the champion was the answer.
How has it fared through two seasons? It has worked to perfection. The drama, excitement, and storylines are endless once the final ten races arrive. This has created a highly desired product, a key feature NASCAR lacked for many years.
It stems from how the format changed a driver’s approach to the entire season. Now the focus is on capturing a victory in the regular season and maintaining a high level of performance in order to excel when the championship is on the line.
The new format has also raised the level of competition to an unprecedented mark as the intensity of the racing reaches an all-time high. With so much on the line, emotions spill onto the race track with every moment mattering more than ever. This has created the atmosphere that attracted fans to racing previously and is the appeal of the future.
NASCAR won big time with the Chase format. It added a much needed boost to the competition. And now, the sport aims to better the on-track product by using the highly praised low downforce package on a full-time basis in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
When it ran in Kentucky and Darlington last season, fans were drawn in by the compelling action, side-by-side racing, and ability for drivers to pass frequently. The competitors enjoyed the package because it put the control back in their hands. If they wanted to get the job done, it’s up to them to make the move, an aspect of racing that competitors hoped would return.
This is the style of racing NASCAR went away from over the last decade. However, it is clear this is the avenue the competition needs to go in order to provide thrilling racing for years to come. While it may not be the final answer to the on-track product, it is the first step in the right direction.
Seeing which drivers the package benefits and hurts will be a storyline throughout the season. Change among the most competitive drivers is a welcomed sight and this package should provide that possibility.
An aspect of the sport that has been consistently absent over the last decade has been a competitive rookie of the year battle. While it was briefly revived when Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. battled for the title in 2013 followed by Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon dueling it out in 2014, it has never been this compelling in years.
Four promising rookies will arrive at Daytona International Speedway, all with aspirations to claim the prestigious award. The drive that fuels each to capture the honor will make for an intense battle throughout the season.
While Chase Elliott is the early favorite as he takes over for Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, he will face stiff competition from Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers, Brian Scott and Richard Petty Motorsports, and Chris Buescher with Front Row Motorsports. Jeffrey Earnhardt will join the battle beginning in Atlanta when he competes in the No. 32 car for 32 races this season.
Each driver’s career holds tremendous promise and their first step in a climb towards supremacy in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be enjoyable to watch.
Part of the excitement that will fill the air to kick-off the season in Daytona is derived from the new business model. NASCAR has conducted business in the same manner since its inception in 1948. Now in 2016, everything changes with the Charter system.
This provides teams with value and stability, critical factors for long-term success. By creating this safe haven for investors and sponsors as 36 competitors will be guaranteed a spot in every race, the sport’s potential to grow has never been greater.
While the system shrinks the field from 43 to 40 cars, it provides a much more competitive atmosphere. It limits the number of struggling teams that enter the race and allows for nearly the entire field to be capable of producing a solid performance.
Fans won’t notice a difference in the racing as a result of the Charter system. However, when NASCAR is around generations from now, it will result from this system.
The most noticeable change in Daytona will be the completion of DAYTONA Rising. This incredible project broke ground in 2013 and is set to lead the historic speedway into the future starting with the 58th running of the Daytona 500.
The concept is remarkable as it is the world’s first motorsports stadium. Achieving this status was no easy task. It required revolutionizing the fan experience and raising it to a level no other track has reached in the history of racing.
In return, NASCAR receives a remarkable representation of the sport. When people think of NASCAR, they think Daytona. And now, it’s an image everyone can be proud of.
The enhancements set to debut in 2016 coupled with every change NASCAR has made over the last four years are driving the sport into the future. This period in NASCAR history shares the same significance of the sport’s inception at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1947. Both revolutionary events share a common goal as they were designed to allow the sport of racing to thrive.
This upcoming season is bringing together the aspects that have made racing what it is today along with the new ideas that will lead NASCAR into the future. It is an incredible time of evolution and innovation that is setting the sport up for long-term success. When the cars take on Daytona’s high banks during Speedweeks, it will open up a season of endless opportunities that will surely provide the excitement the sport is defined by.
NASCAR is back. And better than ever.
By Jason Schultz / @NASCARJason
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey