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DW: Real changes - for a change

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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The 2014 season is shaping up to be one of those times where when it is all said and done, we’re going to look back and say it was a pivotal moment in our sport. We’re going to see that that the things NASCAR is implementing this year will shake things up like never before. The new qualifying format, the proposed changes we are hearing that are coming this week are big fundamental changes to our sport and it is really exciting.

You have all heard about the changes to the car. Unless you are an absolute heavy-duty car nut, do you really care that the leading edge of the splitter is round or square? Do you care NASCAR added more spoiler to the car? Do you really care how much pan is under radiator? Certainly the teams care about all that because it’s going to affect the performance of their race cars. As a race fan sitting at home watching it on FOX or sitting in the grandstands, does that really excite you? Probably not and for the casual fan they probably don’t even know what that means.

Making changes to qualifying and making changes to how our champion is determined at the end of the season are things everyone can get excited about. I think these changes are going to be really fun to watch. Granted it might not be as fun for the drivers and the teams, but they all know we’re in show business and to keep the fans watching and coming to the races, we have to entertain them. I think these changes are just the ticket.

I’m a big fan of Formula 1 and I have said for quite some time that their knockout qualifying system is pretty cool. I’ve been pretty vocal that NASCAR take a hard look at it and consider adopting it. Well now they have and I think it’s great. If another series has a procedure that creates a lot more excitement than our current one does, where’s the harm in utilizing it, too? If someone has a good idea, heck why run from it? Simply embrace it.
 

It’s just like when I talk about Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. They are the best of the best in our sport. You might want to watch and see what they are doing and try to duplicate it. It’s not rocket science here. Six championships in the last eight years ought to be enough to convince even the most stubborn person that they are the absolute blueprint for success.

Formula 1 and their three sessions of qualifying is fun to watch. The anticipation and drama builds until we have a driver on the pole. I think this is going to be a big step forward for our sport. I also tune out what I call the “What If?” committee. They can what if things to death. You can’t make rules for everyone or for the multitude of what if’s in racing and actually life, for that matter.

You have to make rules for everyone. The what if’s will take care of themselves – that’s called racing. You drop the green flag and run the event until you drop the checkered flag. There are things that are going to come up that maybe hadn’t been thought about or planned for. That’s fine. That happens in everything new and things simply evolve. Let the racing and the drivers take care of themselves. The “What If” committee will make your head explode if you listen to all their gloom and sky-is-falling doom. It will be fine.

So I am excited about the new qualifying procedure. Some drivers will be knocked out of the first session. Some more will be knocked in the second session and then it’s going to be a scramble to see who among the remaining cars comes out on top for the pole. Again, this isn’t brand new, but it is different than anything NASCAR has ever done.

We’ve been hearing recently about upcoming changes to the Chase format. The formal announcement is coming later this week. The Chase needed it. It needs excitement blown into it. It’s been 10 races with the same people doing the same thing year after year after year. You can’t expect a different result when it all stays the same and it’s proven out nothing changes.

One of my favorite sayings is “Nothing is going to change until something changes.” Well now finally something is changing and for the positive. Once NASCAR announces the final-final on the new format, number of cars included, etc. then we will have a better feel of things. What I’ve been hearing, though, is pretty darn exciting.

Even though we technically do it now, cars will officially be eliminated after a certain amount races. It is evolving into a true playoff scenario. Sports fans love playoffs. You have it in all our major sports. You have it in college basketball and starting next year you will even have a four-team playoff system in college football for the first time in its history.
If we’re down to four drivers come the final race of the year in Homestead in November, you simply can’t expect to ride around, finish ninth and win the championship. You are going to have to go to Homestead, put on your big boy fire suit and race your butt off. So that changes everything.

That and the qualifying changes are exactly what our sport has been needed. The Gen-6 car got everyone pumped up last year. Now we carry that momentum into the 2014 season with major structural changes to two areas within the sport.

These are the right changes at the right time in our sport in the right places. We haven’t had that for a long time.

Just trust me; you are going to love it as much as I already know I will. Yes, there will be a learning curve for the drivers and teams. That’s okay. Let’s face it, they are paid to learn how to race within the rules NASCAR mandates.

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This year is lining up to be one of the greatest years in the history of our sport our sport has ever seen. We’ve got an awesome class of rookies coming in.

Remember like I always tell you – yellow bumpers cause a lot of excitement because they don’t know what they don’t know. So you got the young guns coming into the sport wanting to make their mark. You have veteran gunslingers trying to hang on and stay in the sport and prove they can get the job done.

Look, at times I have been a real thorn in NASCAR’s side. One of my first races I walked into the media center complaining about their qualifying procedure in Atlanta. Forty years later when I see something I don’t like or have a better idea about, I don’t hesitate to call them out on it.

With that said, fair is fair and when they do something that benefits and enhances the sport, then I will be the first one to acknowledge it. These are two things that are going to do exactly that, so I applaud them for making such drastic changes. Like I always say, just because something worked 20, 30 or 40 years ago doesn’t mean it will work in 2014. Just look at the NFL who is considering doing away with the extra point kick following a touchdown. That’s something new and exciting they have on the table. NASCAR now has two similar plans to make our sport better and I for one am loving it.

Stevie and I have a really busy week. We’re headed back to Charlotte for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies. I along with the other Hall of Famers will be signing autographs Thursday afternoon so if you are in town I hope you’ll come visit. Richard Petty and I are also filming a TV commercial for Charlotte Motor Speedway. That should be a lot of fun especially since it’s based on how I won more Coca Cola 600s than he did. I’m going to have some fun with ol’ Mr. the King on that one!

Finally and speaking of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Stevie and I want to congratulate the newest class of inductees. The 2014 class, which includes Jack Ingram, Dale Jarrett, Tim Flock, Maurice Petty and Fireball Roberts, is one of our best yet. They are all deserving of this ultimate recognition to our sport and I am thrilled they are joining us and I can’t wait to be there to welcome them as our newest members.

Tagged: Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski

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