The Daytona Shootout is scheduled for Feb. 16. Speedweeks continues at Daytona International Speedway through the season-opening Daytona 500, which is set for Feb. 24.
Matt Kenseth won last year. Next year the two-time 500 winner will compete in a Joe Gibbs-owned Toyota instead of a Roush Fenway Ford, but that is only one of many changes to be unveiled in the coming year.
Daytona Beach, Fla., is cool and often breezy in February. Fans miss the NASCAR merry-go-round during the winter months, when they cross the bar between “whew, the season’s over” to “I feel like a bucking horse waiting to be let out of the stall.”
This off-season brings with it considerable reason for optimism. Christmas was appropriate for the masters of the NASCAR universe. They’re all getting new race cars. The 2013 season will be the first for what the sport’s leaders have dubbed the “Generation Six” design, with renewed manufacturer identity and a “racier” look than the “Car of Tomorrow” that was partially implemented in 2007.
This year’s Daytona qualifying races, to be run on Thursday, Feb. 21, will regain some of the significance of their storied past. In recent years, the twin 150-milers (once 100 and then 125 miles) morphed into little more than polite exhibitions held for the benefit of television and the gate. Only a few positions in the 500 were available for drivers to “race their win.” That changes next season as the qualifying format takes on the basic shape of years past. It should make the qualifying races exciting again.
The Daytona Shootout — I’m thinking a corporate sponsor could materialize at any time right up to the week before it is run — also is in throwback mode, returning to a format in which the exhibition race honors pole, not race, winners. That, by the way, eliminates the drivers who finished first (Brad Keselowski) and second (Clint Bowyer) in the recent Chase, but at least the changes give the race a reason again. It’s a fast race for fast qualifiers instead of a knock-off of the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte in May.
Fans will be able to tell a Ford from a Chevy (from a Toyota) again. The qualifying races are going to mean something. NASCAR Nation can’t wait.
Monte Dutton covers motorsports for The Gaston (N.C.) Gazette. E-mail Monte at email@example.com.
(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.