A SEASON OF CHANGES
Daniel Suarez proved his NASCAR
credentials by winning last year’s Xfinity
Series, but as he steps into the big
leagues, any pressure he might be feeling
as the first Mexican to race full-time at
NASCAR’s top level is dwarfed by the size
of the shoes that he has to fill.
Suarez was handed the keys to Joe
Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota after Carl
Edwards unexpectedly announced his
retirement during the winter. Stepping in
as a rookie to replace a driver who had
445 starts and 28 wins to his credit
means that the spotlight will be on the
25-year-old as he works to adapt to the
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“It’s my dream, but I did not expect it
JGR says that rookie Suarez (ABOVE) was
right now,” he admitted. “I have a lot to
learn, but I couldn’t ask for a better
situation. I have the support of a great
team around me.”
Suarez, from Monterrey, is the latest
alumnus of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity
program, initiated in 2004. He joins
fourth-season Cup Series driver Kyle
Larson, the son of a Japanese-American
mother, who earned his first win at
Michigan International Speedway last year.
an obvious choice to replace seasoned
campaigner Carl Edwards in the No. 19.
Daniel Suarez has the hopes of a
nation – and JGR – on his shoulders.
SUM OF THE PARTS
It seems like no NASCAR rule has been left unchanged, but while the
new tweaks are complicated, the drivers’ job remains simple: win.
NASCAR chose the off-season to announce
a dramatic overhaul of its rulebook for
2017. If the guiding principle of any
sporting regulatory revamp is to keep
things simple and easy to understand,
there’s a case for arguing that NASCAR fell
at the first hurdle – the new rules certainly
require some explaining. But how did they
fare when put to the test at the Monster
Energy NASCAR Cup’s season-opening
Daytona 500? The jury’s still out there, too.
The quick version of what’s new looks
something like this: all races across all
three of NASCAR’s national series have
been broken into three stages. The top 10
at the end of each stage will earn “playoff
points” that, in a break from recent
history, carry over into the newly-renamed, 10-race, 16-driver Playoffs
elimination phase of the NASCAR Cup
(or seven-race Playoffs phase, in the case
of Xfinity and Camping World Trucks).
Those Playoff points only ultimately
apply to drivers who actually qualify for
the Playoffs, but regular points will still be
awarded. Points were also handed out for
the Can-Am Duels, the pair of races that
determine the Daytona 500 starting order.
The one element of the points system
that remains unchanged is that the final
four drivers still in contention at
Homestead in November will have their
points reset to the same value, so the last
race remains a winner-take-all shootout.
Other tweaks include a five-minute
limit on initial repairs that will allow a car
to continue to race, and an instant DNF
for any car that returns to the garage mid
race. Replacement of body panels during
the race has also been banned.
So how did it all work out so far? Hard
to say based on just Daytona. Response to
the stage format was more enthusiastic
from the drivers than it appears to have
been from fans, but the final product was
still classic restrictor-plate Daytona: tight
packs, the mandatory wrecks and a
gripping finish. Who needs stages...?
If the watching world is still wrapping
its head around new-look NASCAR, the
good news is that the intensity of the
competition remains as high as ever.
IT’S ALL IN THE FRACTIONS
Among tech tweaks for 2017 is a shrinking of
the restrictor-plate openings from 57/64 to
7/8th of an inch for Daytona and Talladega.
Sleep is already at a
premium for those living
to NASCAR’s manic
schedule, and that’s going
to be further challenged
by the arrival of Monster
Energy as the top tier’s
new title sponsor.
Confirmation of the
Monster deal coincided
with the rollout of a
refreshed NASCAR bar
mark, replacing the one
introduced back in 1976.
ITS BUZZ ON