NASCAR

New year – new plan

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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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Everyone in the sport is taking a deep breath and relaxing a bit. Thanksgiving is upon us and it’s a time to reflect. Next week everyone will be in Las Vegas for the NASCAR Sprint Cup banquet. The NASCAR on FOX gang will all be out there, as well, with our annual winter planning meetings. That’s always fun to get everyone back together again.

So while the on-track activity may be over for a little while, some of the hardest work and some of the toughest decisions that teams and NASCAR have to make come during this period. NASCAR has a lot on their plate that has to be addressed. I don’t envy them in that.

You’ve run a whole season so then you sit down with your executive committee looking at the things that worked, the things that didn’t and the things that happened you didn’t expect. You lay out a game plan with changes you want to make for 2014 and a direction you want things to go in.

The goal is to always be moving forward. There are a lot of things they have to consider. One thing that has already been put in place for 2014 is NASCAR has established a set of guidelines for an approval process the racetracks have to adhere to when selling the title sponsorships to the races. This tightens up the previous language in the sanctioning agreements NASCAR has with the various tracks. Beginning in 2014, the sanction agreement states that tracks must submit for approval all race entitlement sponsors to NASCAR. Obviously, this is a consequence of the controversy at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this year.

Following the controversy at Richmond back in early September, NASCAR has redefined how the drivers are to race. They came up with this “100 percent” rule, which quite honestly I am scratching my head over how they are going to enforce it.

How well Kurt Busch and his No. 78 team performed in 2013 with an alliance with Richard Childress Racing has showed the potential benefits to the smaller teams. JGT Daugherty is the latest organization to make the plunge. They have also now signed an alliance with RCR for engines and engineering assistance. There’s some concern that these alliances could lead to some on-track issues where affiliated teams help their bigger brother teams if need be during a race. Quite honestly, I am okay with that. It’s just part of the sport.

I think NASCAR has to be careful how they try to regulate a team’s business. I’m not actually sure that is NASCAR’s business. Our sport is not like the NFL where these teams are franchises. Race teams are independent contractors so NASCAR’s concern should be what happens on the racetrack be it practice, qualifying or the race itself. If they see something they don’t like happening on the track, then they should respond to it. You simply can’t just make rules and look over people’s shoulders trying to tell independent contractors how to run their business. I just don’t see where that is healthy for anybody.

If you are a reader and follower of Twitter and Facebook you know they are always on fire with folks saying the cars are going too fast now. Their belief is slowing the cars down will make for better racing. My problem with that is simple. If they slow the cars down, what are we going to have? I am afraid we’re simply going to have the type of racing we see in the Nationwide Series.

If that’s the kind of racing you like, then great, you’d be all set. I’m always a big believer in unintended consequences. So if you slow the Sprint Cup cars down to race more like the Nationwide cars, what’s the next thing you will see? You will see more and more Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series. There’s already a big contingent out there that doesn’t like the handful of Cup drivers who make regular appearances in the Nationwide Series. Their heads will explode if the Nationwide field on Saturdays become ¾ fulltime Cup drivers.

The new Gen-6 has been an amazing car. It’s been the fastest car in the history of NASCAR. I think we set something like 19 or 20 new track records in 2013 with this new car. This car is blazingly fast. Some people think it’s already too fast. Here’s what I simply can’t wrap my arms around – saying a RACE car is too fast.

However, there are those who feel that way, so we’ll see how things go with the NASCAR test in Charlotte in a couple weeks. Then in early January we head back to testing in Daytona. The Sprint Cup cars will be testing Thursday Jan. 9 and Friday Jan. 10. Then the Nationwide cars take to the track on Saturday Jan. 11. Naturally, you can follow those tests on FOX Sports 1 as we’ll be in Daytona covering it.

NASCAR will continue to look at the aero-balance of these cars. They’ll look at the overall performance of these cars. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if before we get to Speedweeks in February next year that there aren’t some rule adjustments on these cars handed down by NASCAR. That’s just the nature of this sport.

Qualifying is something NASCAR has to take a hard look at. I think we need to come up with something similar to Formula One. They call it knockout qualifying which I am all for that. I mean, c’mon, we go to Daytona and Talladega, and watching one car on the track for three laps is simply boring. I think they need to come up with something to blow some drama back into qualifying.

I was thinking they could have sessions of qualifying. All the cars go on the track in the first session. Out of those 43 you might take 20 and move on to the next session. From that next session you only take 10 cars that run for the pole. I call it free-for-all qualifying. The bottom line is they have to do something to create some excitement.

The other thing I wouldn’t let these teams do is tape up the grille. They have to qualify it just like they would run it on Sunday. The one and done stuff with a taped-up nose sure makes things boring. So I think there are a couple simple little things they can do to make qualifying better. Going out three and four at a time just didn’t turn out so hot.

The year 2014 will only see some minor realignment with dates for some tracks, but to me the bigger issue presents itself for 2015. That’s the start of the new television package with FOX and NBC covering all the races. NASCAR has simply got to come up with a new schedule. I think people are tired and burned out of the same 'ol, same 'ol. I think a fresh approach to the schedule in 2015 could be just what the Doc ordered.

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There’s just a lot going on, again, just not on-track. There are crew chief changes; there are drivers who still don’t know their future, so there are a lot of unknowns still to be played out during this short off-season. Remember my little buddy the duck from last week? He’s still sitting there looking calm, cool and collected. Just looking at him, you would think he doesn’t have a care in the world. It’s underneath the surface where his little feet are just paddling away where all the action is. He’s working really, really hard.

I think that’s where NASCAR is right now. While everyone is catching their breath and maybe it doesn’t look like there is a lot going on, that’s what you see on the surface. It’s behind the scenes and underneath the water that all kinds of things are happening that we still don’t know about.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday. We’ll talk more and break some of this stuff down later. I know, let’s talk turkey after Thursday!

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

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