It's still cold and snowy here in the Northeast, but it's time for NASCAR action to start heating up race tracks around the country. The 2019 NASCAR season officially kicks off Sunday February 17th with the running of 61st annual Daytona 500 in Daytona, Florida.
In all other sports the biggest game of the year is the championship finale, but NASCAR is backwards in that regard since the Daytona 500 is the first race run every season and is considered the motorsports crown jewel event. What do expect from something that is derived from moonshine bootleggers?
It was a busy off-season as several rules changes entered the book. Let's catch you up to speed with all the new rule changes for 2019.
2019 Rules Package
The 2018 NASCAR Championship was won by Joey Logano, but the season was dominated by the "Big Three": Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. The elite trio won 20 of the 36 races on the schedule. Nine other drivers combined to win the other 16 races.
NASCAR doesn't like to see so few drivers dominating so much of the schedule. Therefore a new rules package will be introduced in 2019 to try to even up the playing field a little. The rules vary by track since not all tracks feature the same layouts, but the general changes are taller spoilers, larger front splitters, and wider radiator pans. Other changes like smaller spacers and new aero ducts will be adjusted on a track by track basis.
What does all this mean? The goal is to reduce a car's overall horsepower and create more downforce drag for better handling. In essence the idea is to put more emphasis on a driver's ability to race his car and less on an engineer's ability to build a rocket. NASCAR wants to see more side-by-side racing action and less drivers running away from the field.
Will it work? Time will tell, but not this week. The 2019 Daytona 500 will still be run under the old rules package of restrictor-plates. I told you this motorsport is backwards. Expect the 500 to turn into an old-fashioned demolition derby once again. Good luck trying to pick a winner, restrictor-plate races are total crapshoots. The second Daytona race later this summer will use the new rules package. I hope this is the end of restrictor-plates, but I wouldn't bet on it.
2019 Inspection Rules
If you have ever followed NASCAR at all, you know every team tries to bend the rules a little in order to gain an advantage over the competition each week. Of course some teams trample all over the rule book, but I digress. NASCAR has instituted new pre-race and post-race inspection rules and penalties to cut down on gamesmanship (which is a fancy word for cheating). The new penalties are much more severe, good thing Junior Johnson is retired because he would never survive this each week.
In past years cars were given 3 chances to pass a pre-race inspection before being penalized by starting at the rear of the field. That number has been cut to two and the penalty now includes the loss of a crew member for that race and a reduction in practice time for the next one. If the car fails a third inspection, in addition to the previous penalties it will serve a pit road pass through penalty to begin the race and and be docked even more practice time the following week. If the car fails 4 inspections (and this has happened occasionally) the team will be issued an L1 level penalty. L1 level penalties include monetary fines, crew chief and team member suspensions and the loss of valuable drivers points. Teams will have a lot less motivation to test the boundaries of the rule book facing those harsh penalties.
Post-race penalties have been strengthened as well. Instead of lasting several days, all post-race inspections will take place at the track during a 90 minute period following the waving of the checkered flag. Minor infractions such as loose or missing lug nuts will still only result in small monetary fines, however L1 level penalties will now result in a car being disqualified from the race. For the first time NASCAR will now strip a win from a car that fails its post-race inspection, the second place finisher (assuming they pass the inspection) will be declared the race winner. Last year in the second race at Texas both race winner Kevin Harvick and runner-up Ryan Blaney received L1 penalties following the event. Under the new rules, 3rd place finisher Joey Logano would have been declared the winner.
This new post-race disqualification rule has been needed for a long time. It was ridiculous that a driver was allowed to keep his victory after having been found in violation of the rules. This new penalty will surely spark some controversy this season, but I'm all for it.
What do you think of the rules for 2019? Do you think it's change for the better, change for the worse or change for the sake of change? I like them, but if they start hurting Chase Elliott I reserve the right to change my mind.