Speedweeks 2012 has arrived, and with it comes more anticipation than the sport has seen in years. There’s a new defending champion, a new fuel system, and plenty of driver/crew chief changes to make every one confused come tonight’s Budweiser Shootout.
NASCAR has the shortest off season of any sport, yet it somehow manages to make it one of the busiest. The “silly season” as its so often called began immediately after Tony Stewart took home his 3rd Cup title – in what was easily the most exciting championship battle in NASCAR history. Long time crew chief Darian Grubb was no longer a member of the championship team, a decision that had been made earlier in the chase, before Stewart’s incredible run. Changes continued with the “mutual split” between Kurt Busch and Penske Racing, Danica’s announcement of switching full time to NASCAR, and drivers such as Kasey Kahne, A.J. Almendinger, David Ragan, Aric Armirola, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, and Kurt Busch all signing contracts for new teams.
All of these driver changes will give the field a very different look come tonight’s pre-season Shootout. Even drivers in familiar rides might not be so recognizable, with big names such as Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth having signed on with new sponsors, and many drivers having new paint schemes.
Less visible, higher impacting, changes have been made as well. NASCAR has finally made the switch to Electronic Fuel Injection (E.F.I.). A change that the manufactures have been pushing for for years, E.F.I. will create more fuel efficiency, and is an overall better system of getting the fuel to the engine. NASCAR has spent years of R&D to prepare for this change and worked with super car manufacturer McLaren to create the ECU that will control it. While the switch to E.F.I. is a permanent change for the future, NASCAR also spent much of the off season on more specific changes for Super Speedways. Many fans have complained about the “tandem drafting” that was on display last season, and NASCAR wanted to get rid of it. If early testing and Bud Shootout practice is any indication, it looks like we will be seeing classic pack racing for all events this week at Daytona.
Tonight will be an interesting test of all of the changes, as there are no points at risk, drivers will sure to push everything to the limit. The random draw for starting positions was hosted last night, with Martin Truex Jr. pulling pole position. Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose and Jeff Gordon led the practice session this afternoon.
ARCA Racing Series: Today 4:30 PM (SPEED)
Budweiser Shootout: Tonight 8:oo PM (FOX)
Daytona 500 Front Row Qualifying: Tomorrow 1:00 PM (FOX)
Gatorade Duels: Thursday 1:00 PM (SPEED)
Camping World Truck Series Race: Friday 7:00 PM (SPEED)
Nationwide Series Race: Saturday 12:00 PM (ESPN)
DAYTONA 500: Sunday 12:00 PM (FOX)