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Intermediate package could have biggest impact in ‘14

February 11, 2014, Kenny Bruce,

New rules and specifications for meat of NASCAR's schedule will come into heavy play

The racing on the track has to matter. Amid all the fanfare and announcements, that fact hasn’t changed.

Big, bold moves have brought much attention to NASCAR in recent weeks. Fans will notice the first of those changes when teams take to the track in Daytona Beach during the course of the next two weeks.

A new qualifying format will debut in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series at Daytona International Speedway. Multiple entries will be on the track simultaneously. The fastest will continue to advance. It may not be "racing" to get into the field, but it’s a step in that direction.

Sprint Cup Series teams won’t put the "knockout" process into play until that series moves on to Phoenix. Single-car runs and a pair of qualifying races will continue to be used to determine the starting lineup for the season-opening Daytona 500.

Elsewhere, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has undergone significant changes, with the addition of four teams, increasing the size of the field to 16.

Win a race, we’re told, and you’re "virtually" in.

If there aren’t 16 drivers who've won after the season’s 26th race -- which is likely -- then the remainder of the field will be determined based on points positions. Consistency has been muted, perhaps, but not eradicated.

Eliminations, unspoken truths of the past, are now part of the process. Three individual rounds will cull four teams from the field after every three Chase races until only four drivers remain heading into Homestead for the championship-determining event.

That’s a lot for the average race fan to swallow.

Will they work? Will the moves win over the sport’s older fans and help create new ones? Will attendance grow? Will TV ratings increase?

That’s the hope, the motive behind the moves.

But there’s another item as well, one that’s been overshadowed a bit by the qualifying and Chase announcements. Yet it carries as much, if not more, weight.

The 2014 rules package, aimed at improving competition on intermediate-size tracks, will likely be the determining factor in how the season is perceived. Not qualifying. Not a revamped Chase package.

If the competition on the track isn’t exciting, all the changes in the world aren’t going to placate what some believe has become an increasingly disinterested fan base.

Qualifying formats and Chase transformations won’t satisfy the average fan if there is precious little action between the unfurling of the green and the waving of the checkered flags.

And it’s on the intermediate-sized tracks, which make up the bulk of the 36-race Cup schedule, that the action has waned.

Restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega exist in their own world, one where large packs of cars traveling at ridiculously high speeds dance on the edge of disaster.

Short track racing harkens back to the sport’s earliest days and is less about speed and more about space. You’ve got it. I want it.

Road course races provide the hustle and bustle found on a short track, but showcase a driver’s talent like no other stops on the circuit.

The intermediates are the steak and potatoes of the Cup series and where the sport has to sizzle rather than fizzle.

Officials are hoping the new rules package provides teams with the tools to do just that.

The changes consist of new ride height rules for the front of the car, a splitter change, adjustments to the side skirts and rear bumper areas, a slightly taller spoiler and an increase in the size of the radiator pan underneath the cars.

They’ve been tested on the track and run through the computer. Data has been dissected and discussed. But until 43 cars get on the track and an idea finally becomes reality, the question remains.

Will the racing be better?

At the end of the day, that’s what really matters.


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