2014 NASCAR: 10 New Year’s Resolutions
New Year's Resolutions: NASCAR Style
2014 is here and that means it's time for New Year's resolutions ... NASCAR style. There is a new season of NASCAR racing on the horizon and I am really excited for it. 2013 was an odd year with a lot of strange events and was one I enjoyed for the most part. Jimmie Johnson returns as the defending champion once again and every driver is gunning for his crown. Each team now has one year of racing the Gen-6 under their belts as well, so I expect the on-track action to improve. We will enjoy the strongest rookie class we've had in years which is led by phenoms Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon; two guys that I see winning sooner rather than later. There is a lot to look forward to in 2014 and the anxiety to get going builds as each day clicks away and the 56th annual Daytona 500 draws ever so near.
Just like any other season, there are certain expectations going into it in regards to how a driver, team or manufacturer will perform. In this list, I'm taking the New Year’s resolution theme and applying it to multiple aspects of NASCAR. I’ll be bouncing between what I think the resolutions should be for some of NASCAR's star drivers, the manufacturers, a couple teams, the television networks and even the people that head the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. Also, please keep in mind that there’s no particular order to the 10 topics I chose for this slideshow.
Nick DeGroot is a Contributing Writer to Rant Sports NASCAR. Connect with him on Twitter @ndegroot89.
ESPN: Less Commercial Interruptions
One thing you'll find NASCAR fans complaining about when ESPN is broadcasting races is the annoyingly high amount of commercials and their length. It's caused fans to miss out on live coverage of lead changes, wrecks and race-altering moments. NASCAR isn't like other sports where there are always breaks, which allows the network to get their commercials in.
NASCAR's only breaks or pauses in the action are cautions and they are unpredictable. There could be five back-to-back or none over the course of the entire event. Toward the end of races, ESPN does implement a split screen which allows race fans to watch during commercials. 2014 will be the final year ESPN broadcasts NASCAR before NBC takes over, so hopefully they make their final year a great one and find a way to allow the race fans at home to see more action and less ads.
Danica Patrick: Show Improvement
Danica Patrick showed progression at the end of 2012 and I was mildly impressed with her performance. Contradictory, she seemed to almost regress in 2013. The new car and the fact that Stewart-Haas Racing was weaker as a whole than previous years most likely contributed to the subpar results, but can't fully be blamed. I can excuse her rather poor finishes because of those factors and the obvious fact that it was her rookie season, but she can't run like that again in 2014.
Out of the drivers that ran every race on the schedule, only three scored less points than Patrick (David Ragan, David Reutimann and Travis Kvapil). She finished 25th or worse in 23 of the 36 races this year which I feel is way too many considering the caliber of car she was driving. Hopefully she gains some traction in her sophomore season because there's no denying that her presence in the sport is good for NASCAR.
Kasey Kahne: Be More Aggressive
Kasey Kahne is a very talented racer and could one day be crowned Sprint Cup champion, but his Achilles heel may come from something most would consider an attribute: his kindness. Kasey has been scrutinized for being overly courteous during races and not only has it cost him victories, but fellow drivers haven't been hesitant to run him over when he got in their way.
I really like Kasey, but he's just too nice on the track sometimes. He doesn't have to go all Jacque Villeneuve on the field; that's not what I'm saying. He can still be respectful, but have a line that your fellow competitors will have to pay for if they cross. Drivers such as Jeff Burton and Mark Martin have been able to balance it very well, so maybe he can take a page out of their book. As long as everyone thinks they can get away with using him up every time they please, though, it's going to keep happening until he pushes back.
Cup Drivers: Stop Dominating The Nationwide Races
This obviously isn't going to happen and I highly doubt guys such as Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski will strive to make it a reality, but most people out there would like to see an end to their domination of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Every time they show up, they turn the race into their own personal playground. A crash, wrong strategy call or a mechanical failure is the only way to beat them 90 percent of the time. Again, it won't happen, but I'd sure like to see it come to an end or at the very least, not happen so often.
Ford: Keep Up With Chevrolet & Toyota
With the introduction of the Gen-6 cars, each manufacturer was excited to debut their design and two of them came out of the box strong: Chevy and Toyota. Ford struggled, though, and while their rivals were winning races hand over fist, they only managed to visit victory lane on six occasions in 2013. In comparison, Toyota won 14 races and Chevrolet led the way with 16. Their highest finishing driver in the standings was Joey Logano in eighth and only Carl Edwards succeeded in winning multiple races (two). In 2014, Ford needs to step up their game and challenge Toyota and GM like they could in the mid-2000s.
JTG Daugherty Racing: Run Better
JTG-Daugherty Racing has been running full time in the Cup level since 2009 with little success. They've struggled for halfway decent finishes with Marcos Ambrose, Bobby Labonte and A.J. Allmendinger, all capable racers. In 2014, they will be limited on excuses. They have formed an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and ECR motors will be under the hood, so speed and power shouldn't be an issue. Bobby Labonte has gotten older and some argue that he has dragged them down, but with Allmendinger behind the wheel, they can't say that anymore. They'll have good cars, plenty of sponsorship and a young driver piloting their machine. If JTG fails to make progress in 2014, they will need to seriously re-evaluate their operation.
Jeff Burton & Bobby Labonte: Show The World That You Can Still Get It Done
Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton have been racing at NASCAR's top level for two decades and are two of the most respected drivers in the field. They were both pushed out of their full-time rides at the end of 2013, but have since found new opportunities for the 2014 season. Burton will drive for Michael Waltrip Racing while Labonte joins forces with Phoenix Racing; both are part-time deals.
With the pressure of a full-time schedule off their shoulders, these two can go out there and try to prove that they still got it and most importantly, have some fun. It's been five years since Burton visited victory lane and for Labonte, he hasn't won a Cup race since 2003. With fairly competitive teams backing them and a smaller schedule to deal with, 2014 might just be the year when one or both of these veterans regain their former glory and return to their winning ways.
RPM & EGR: Win Some Races & Make The Chase
Richard Petty Motorsports and Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing are two multi-car operations that need to step it up in 2014. EGR showed slight improvement in 2013 and I expect them to have an even better 2014, but I am worried about RPM. Marcos Ambrose has won two races for the team but both he and Aric Almirola went winless in 2013.
They've had a few years to rebuild after the team switched hands between George Gillett and Richard Petty. It's now time to win some more races and get into the Chase. In fact, Ambrose hinted that 2014 may be his final year in NASCAR if the results don't change. In my opinion, EGR needs to get at least one driver in the Chase this season and RPM needs to start winning at tracks other than road courses.
NASCAR: More Consistent Calls
NASCAR has a history of making inconsistent calls and I hope that they work to improve on that in 2014. The issue with controversial restart calls shouldn't be a problem with the adjustments they made to the rules in the later part of last year. When and why they don't throw cautions is what they need to work on, though. We've seen cautions for cars barely touching the wall and then none when a car slams it and rips the entire rear bumper off. I understand and respect the hesitation to throw the yellow when there's a wreck on the final lap, but I'm focusing on the other 99 percent of the race. I would just like to see more uniformity with those kinds of rulings in the future.