Wake up! Wake up! It’s about time to fire the engines.
For those who have paid attention to the NASCAR offseason and think they remember everything, go back to sleep until the green flag drops at 8:24 p.m. ET Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway for the one preseason race of the year.
This won’t have much new in it. But if any fan has everything that happened in the offseason in his or her head, well, that head might just not have much room left for anything else.
So here’s a refresher: It’s been one busy offseason in NASCAR. Here are some of the things that have happened since NASCAR dropped the checkered flag at Homestead as it prepares to run The Clash (old name is new again) At Daytona with practice Friday and the 75-lap exhibition race Saturday night. Single-lap qualifying will take place Sunday afternoon to set the front row for the Daytona 500.
NASCAR has a new series sponsor. Monster Energy has replaced Sprint. What does it mean? The cars will have Monster logos across the windshields (names of drivers now on the back of the cars). There will be more Monster girls at races then you can count on two hands. Monster will try to bring more of a party atmosphere. TV executives, though, will wonder how they will replace all that Sprint advertising. And fans will wonder about their cell service.
The series has a new points system. It would take a series of paragraphs to explain it. But the main points: First off, NASCAR has trashed the term “Chase” — it’s buh-bye along with Sprint. NASCAR has found a new word to describe its playoff system: Playoffs. It’s the one thing that is simple about this new system.
Races will be broken into three stages. Think of the end of stages as competition cautions as laps will continue to tick. The first two stages will be the same number of laps — for instance, at Daytona, the stages will come at the end of laps 60 and 120 and then there’s the end of the race at lap 200. At the end of each of the first two segments, the top 10 earn points on a 10-to-1 scale. At the end of the race, all 40 drivers earn points with the winner getting 40, then second through 35th on a descending 35-to-2 scale and 36th to 40th all get one point apiece.
But wait, there’s more. Each stage winner gets 1 “playoff point” and the race winner gets 5 playoff points. Plus, at the end of the regular season, the top 10 drivers in the point standings get playoff points on a 15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale. Drivers now carry these playoff points — and continue to earn playoff points — into the third round of the playoffs, meaning a driver who has a great regular season has less of a chance of being eliminated before Homestead. See: Four-time winner Martin Truex Jr. not advancing to the third round and six-race winner William Byron in trucks not advancing to the finale (which he also won).
Homestead is still the same as far as the championship — the driver among the four finalists who finishes the best is the champion. Don’t ask what the trophy is called or what it will look like. It’s only February, folks.
One thing that doesn’t change? How drivers get into the playoffs and advance through the playoffs — 16 drivers to start (regular season champ plus the next 15 drivers based on wins with ties broken by points) and four drivers eliminated after every three races.
Enough of points. There are more changes to talk about.
Wrecked cars? Can’t fix them. Well, if a car goes to the garage with body damage, they are done for the day. Teams can only add tape and support rods on pit road if they have damage — and they get only five minutes while on pit road to do it. After that, they must wait until the green flag comes out, show they can reach minimum speed, and then they can come down again. Teams can go to the garage for an electrical or mechanical failure but can’t add any major parts and pieces.
If a driver gets in a wreck, there will be another change — the driver will be seen by a doctor and paramedic employed by American Medical Response, which will have a pool of four or five doctors and paramedics who will rotate going to races. It’s NASCAR’s version of a traveling safety team. It’s not where other series are, but it’s a step toward at least consistent care. And if Matt DiBenedetto stumbles after getting out of a car, maybe the doctor won’t think he will have a concussion.
Speaking of the cars, they will be a little different this year for the non-restrictor-plate tracks. The spoiler is smaller (from 3.5-by-61 inches to 2.375-by-61). The front splitter has less surface area, for a combination that NASCAR hopes reduces the downforce from 2,800 pounds to 2,000 pounds. The Toyota looks different thanks to a revamped body to go along with the 2018 Camry released later this year. As far as Daytona and Talladega, the horsepower will be slightly reduced as the restrictor-plate holes will be 56/64ths of an inch in diameter, down 1/64th from a year ago.
Maybe we should mention drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back, but not for The Clash exhibition race Saturday. He’s opted for the television booth and Alex Bowman, who earned a pole at Phoenix, will be in the No. 88 just for that event.
And if you hear someone on the No. 19 radio that doesn’t sound like Carl Edwards, it’s because it’s not. Edwards has joined Tony Stewart among the retired. Daniel Suarez, the Xfinity champ, has taken the place of Edwards.
Clint Bowyer has replaced Stewart, whose four-car operation will now field Fords instead of Chevrolets.
And there you go. Hope that helps. Just don’t go back to sleep during a race — you might miss who wins a stage and that potentially critical playoff point.