The 2014 Sprint Cup Series will not see a green flag wave to start a points race for a little over a month, but this coming week at Daytona international Speedway preparations will kick into another gear as the speedway plays host to Preseason Thunder. NASCAR will host its first test session of the new season beginning on Thursday with every team expected to be in attendance.
While NASCAR has recently announced some changes to its Gen-6 racecar, the one that will come into play in the seasonopening Daytona 500 is the increase in the rear spoiler height. Sprint Cup teams will have a half-inch more spoiler this season, bringing the height of the spoiler to 4.5 inches. The increase is an attempt by the sanctioning body to add a little more rear down force, which should make the cars a little more stable.
The two-day test session will also be the first chance the fans will have to not only see some on track action but to also interact with the drivers. The speedway organizes meet-and-greet opportunities for every driver with fans and also allow fans the opportunity to tour the speedway. Fans will have the opportunity to have their picture made in the track’s famous victory lane with the Daytona 500 trophy.
Fans attending the test sessions might just want to pick up some kind of a program as there are several driver-car changes for the new season. All eyes will be on Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) as that organization added a fourth team for this season.
SHR announced early last season that Ryan Newman would not be back and that Tony Stewart’s close friend Kevin Harvick would take over in 2014. Harvick would have joined the lineup that already consisted of Stewart and the darling of the Sprint Cup press, Danica Patrick, but Gene Haas, co-owner of SHR, decided that he basically wanted to hire his “own” driver and hired Kurt Busch to pilot a fourth team.
The weak link of that four-driver lineup is Patrick as the other three drivers are proven winners in the sport. Stewart and Busch are past Sprint Cup champions and Harvick is a regular participant in the sport’s Chase. The only question about the lineup is how well this all-star group of drivers will work together.
Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) will be another organization under the microscope in the early going of the season as the fallout from the September Richmond race changed the entire face of what was one of the up-and-coming organizations in the sport. Gone from MWR is Martin Truex Jr., who will take over the vacated seat of Kurt Busch at Furniture Row Racing. That leaves not only a huge void in the driver lineup at MWR, but also one less team as its longtime sponsor NAPA Autoparts announced that it would not return in 2014.
The problems for MWR doesn’t end there as Brian Vickers, who is scheduled to take its #55 ride full time this season, is still having some health issues relating to blood clots and has yet to be medically cleared. Owner Michael Waltrip is scheduled to run in the Daytona 500 and Jeff Burton is scheduled to run at Las Vegas in the car that was used by Truex Jr. last season. The number will be changed from 56 to 66 and if sponsorship is found, Burton may enter a couple of more races.
Chip Ganassi Racing announced changes to its driver lineup in August that it was going to be moving Kyle Larson up from the Nationwide Series to take over the ride that was piloted by Juan Pablo Montoya. Larson was a rookie in the Nationwide Series last season and also raced in the Camping World Truck Series. He won a race in the truck series and was highly competitive in the Nationwide Series. He competed in a couple of Cup races at Charlotte and Martinsville for Ganassi in the fall and will now be paired with Jamie McMurray to make up Ganassi’s two-car lineup.
PIT NOTES: Fans, don’t worry if you can’t make it to Daytona this week for Preseason Thunder. FOX Sports 1 will provide three days of coverage that will include the two days of Cup testing and one day of Nationwide testing. Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip will call all of the action.