The fourth and final day started off with Michael Waltrip Racing, a team that had a lot of rebuilding to do after shooting themselves in the foot last year. The biggest thing they did in their reorganization was to go from three to two full-time cars.
Michael Waltrip Racing
Clint Bowyer and a healthy Brian Vickers are MWR’s two full timers. The team will retain a third car, the 66, for full-time testing and a lot of that will be done by Jeff Burton, who is new to the team. MWR is doing quite a bit in pursuit of data that would turn into racing advantages. For one, they are focusing all their aggressive track testing for the first third of the season. And by aggressive, they will test at Daytona and while in Florida, also test at the short track of New Smyrna. MWR has ramped up their engineering by 15%, showing, once again, the importance of a strong engineering department to help point the team in the right direction on the track.
Joe Gibbs Racing
The big news at the big dog of Toyota teams, Joe Gibbs Racing, is that Denny Hamlin is back after having back surgery last year. But anyone who saw him win the last race of last year can vouch for that. More accurately, he is completely healed and ready to make yet another solid points run. JGR is another top team with all its assets in place carrying over to this year. Denny is joined by Matt Kenseth (after an amazing seven wins last year) and Kyle Busch.
New Chase Formula
The latest NASCAR news is the result of a three-year program to make the Sprint Cup Championship more “racy” and easier for fans to understand and follow. The new formula starts with a total of 16 drivers (up from 12) making their way into the ten-race Chase. Those ten races will be divided into four groups, three with three races and the remaining race being the final at Homestead, FL. After the first three races, called the Challenger Round, 12 drivers will move to the next three races known as the Contender Round.
The next three races will be the Eliminator Round and have eight drivers running. The last race will be the Championship Round with four drivers in a Winner-Take-All where the first to cross the finish line earning the 2014 Championship. The usual one point for leading a lap will be suspended for the final four at the last race so it will be easier to know how they stand and finish – no points, just track position.
This fourth change to the Chase promises to make it easier for fans to know who is contending (and winning) that last race. NASCAR is also interested in creating a bigger emphasis on winning and says it is still working on those plans.