Chitwood excited about changes as Speedweeks arrive
February 12, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Media Day is Thursday, with on-track action beginning Friday
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Whether having just returned from their European holidays and family trips to the beach or trying to beat the snowstorm that hit the Southeastern United States this week, drivers and race teams have packed up and headed to Daytona Beach for the opening of the 2014 season.
Of course, for Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III, the Daytona 500 has been on his mind since Jimmie Johnson hoisted the last season’s trophy five hours south.
"We’re in the middle of race ready," Chitwood said, referring as much to the massive $400 million Daytona Rising construction project going on around the track as the fresh season mindset inside it.
The 2014 version of Daytona Speedweeks start Thursday with the traditional Media Day interview sessions and photo shoots for drivers in all three national series.
Then the first official laps of the season begin.
Friday will feature practices for Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited non-points race featuring last year’s pole-winners and past winners of the most fan friendly race show in America. The front row of the Daytona 500 will be set Sunday.
Next Thursday will be the primetime debut of the Budweiser Duels at Daytona, the twin 150-mile qualifying races, followed by the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series season openers on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, respectively.
By the time the green flag waves Sunday afternoon for NASCAR’s Daytona 500 – a fresh set of storylines – from Tony Stewart’s return from injury to the beginning of Johnson’s quest for a seventh championship – will be banner headlines across the world.
The only thing that gets Chitwood more animated than talking about the 40 million pounds of steel or new high tech amenities his track’s makeover will include is the impact that the recent Sprint Cup Series championship format change – with its emphasis on winning -- will have on the season, and in particular the Daytona 500.
"Look at what NASCAR is doing in making these changes, look at what Daytona is doing in reinvesting $400 million in our facility, we’re doing the same things." Chitwood said. "We’re planting our flag in the sport and saying we’re going to keep improving, pushing the envelope and getting better and I think they’ve done it."
And as if the typically unpredictable, frantic Daytona 500 pace weren’t enough?
"The format changes support the nature of 'hey, you want to win the Daytona 500 then you need to be aggressive,'" Chitwood said smiling widely. "And now there’s even more reasons to be aggressive. With the way this system is set up you’ve got to be aggressive all year, you’ve got to get a win on the board.
"I think it supports racing hard at Daytona."
While the outside of the track will look different – from huge steel infrastructure and towering cranes to temporary fan entrys and lots of construction fencing – but the facility’s inside and the promise of inside the facility and on-track remains the same for this year’s race.
And that’s exactly what Chitwood is counting on. This race is the ultimate equalizer, the track where everyone’s championship hopes are stoked.
"When they show up every day they think they can win and this year more than ever that win will mean something," Chitwood said.