It’s been since November that we’ve heard the beautiful sounds of NASCAR engines roaring at nearly 200 mph, but the wait is over. It’s time to go racing again and the first action is this Saturday night with the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
My real joy begins Friday at 2 p.m. PT when the 25 eligible drivers for the 75-lap non-points race have their first practice. It’s like spring training, or a dawning of a new year. Yes, it’s still cold outside in Las Vegas, but nothing says a season is changing quite like the first time I hear those hot cars in practice.
As with most restrictor-plate races, the practices mean very little, and I’ll gain really nothing from watching it. It’s almost like a waste of 55 minutes, and then I’ll watch again and hour later for the final 55-minute session. But, I just can’t wait to see some NASCAR again, and I’ll be pumped for those couple of meaningless practices.
The Broncos cap goes back on the hat rack, and the No. 3 camouflage hat comes back out. New season. Opening day. Love it.
Of course, if I’m going to watch the race I’ve got to have some action on it, right? The thing I like about the Sprint Unlimited is it’s a short race with only 75 laps. It’s over in an instant. It’s like a Saturday night special at the local short track.
And we get only the best of the best – drivers that won a pole last season or any Daytona 500 pole, won a past Sprint Unlimited, or participated in the Chase last season. There are no hobos participating – no jalopies to get in the way. This race is about getting out front quick and trying to maintain good position throughout because it’s over quick.
There are a few drivers that really seem to like this format, such as three-time winner Kevin Harvick and two-time winner Denny Hamlin. Matt Kenseth won last season and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won twice, the last coming in 2008.
Not a lot has changed with the cars design, so we should see similar racing in plate races that we have the past two seasons. The one major change is a larger hole in the restrictor plate, which will give each of the cars an extra 10 horsepower. That will be interesting to see just how big an impact it has.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won two of the four plate races last season between Daytona and Talladega and Joey Logano won the other two. Overall, the past two years, the best teams that have consistently run near the front in all the plate races have been Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.
I’m going to roll with a few of those drivers this week, especially Denny Hamlin who is getting a nice 15-to-1 price at several books. It’s a contract year for Hamlin and I’m expecting big things out of him to force a fat new deal from Joe Gibbs before the silly season starts.
Now let’s drop that green flag and get this season started.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].