NASCAR: News and Notes From a Rainy Opening Day of Preseason Thunder

By Nick DeGroot
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Thunder commenced today at Daytona International Speedway, but the only vehicles we saw on track were attempting to dry it off. Unfortunately, Mother Nature halted all activity at DIS and 43 drivers will have to wait until tomorrow to test out their 2014 machines on the high banks of Daytona. Despite no on-track activity, it was still a very busy news day in the NASCAR world.

Steve Letarte To Leave Hendrick Motorsports

In the announcement that no one saw coming, Steve Letarte has decided to relinquish his duties as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the conclusion of 2014. He’s not joining another race team though. Letarte has opted to take a deal as a TV analyst for NBC Sports for their coverage of NASCAR races in 2015 and beyond; he will work beside Jeff Burton and Rick Allen in the booth. Letarte has served a crew chief at the Sprint Cup level since 2005 and has accumulated 11 victories in 294 races (10 with Jeff Gordon, one with Dale Jr). Hendrick Motorsports stated that a replacement crew chief wouldn’t be announced until the conclusion of the 2014 season.

New NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Managing Director 

John Darby has served as the managing director for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 15 years, but his tenure in that role is coming to an end. Richard Buck, the vice president of racing operations for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), will replace him. Buck has an extensive background in motorsports, which includes multiple Indianapolis 500 victories as a crew chief. Darby will continue to hold a position with NASCAR and will assist Buck in getting adjusted to his new position.

Tony Stewart Will be Ready to Race by Sprint Unlimited

Tony Stewart told the media at DIS that he’s ahead of schedule in terms of recovery after breaking his leg last August in a Sprint Car crash. Stewart was fitted for a seat a few weeks ago and should be cleared to race in the Sprint Unlimited on Feb. 15. He also reiterated that he plans to race Sprint Cars once again in 2014.

2014 Sprint Unlimited Format Announced

The 2014 Sprint Unlimited will be 75 laps in length and consist of three segments. Fans may vote for how NASCAR will split up the race, and the options are 30-35-10, 30-30-15, or 30-25-20. Fans also have a say in how the starting order is set. The options are most career poles, the order they finished in the 2013 standings, or fastest speeds in practice. Fans may also choose how the running order will be determined prior to the final segment. The three choices are fastest lap, most laps led, or a two-tire stop.

New Crossover Gate

Last year, about 30 fans were injured when Kyle Larson‘s airborne car ripped through the crossover gate on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at DIS. This year, the track has been equipped with a new crossover gate that should withstand the impact of a car much better than its predecessor. The gate is now behind the safer barrier and the fence itself will roll up to allow fans to walk through. The new crossover gate is just a small part of a multi-million dollar project to update the famous speedway.

Rusty Wallace Will Have To Wait

1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace was supposed to get his chance behind the wheel of a Gen-6 car car today, but due to inclement weather, that didn’t happen. However, there’s no need to worry Wallace fans, because Team Penske officials stated that they he will have his chance to drive the “White Deuce” tomorrow.

The forecast for the second day of Preseason Thunder is much clearer and NASCAR will most likely extend the amount of track time to make up for the washout today. Fox Sports 1 will have live coverage of testing, starting at 1pm est.

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