Roger Diez: NASCAR celebrates the year that was in Las Vegas
December 1, 2017
All NASCAR Monster Energy Cup teams, drivers, crews, officials, press, and TV commentators descended on Nevada last week. Unfortunately, they chose Las Vegas for the site of their season-ending festivities instead of Reno. Martin Truex was officially crowned the 2017 Cup champion, and a horde of other awards were bestowed. Eric Jones was Cup Rookie of the year, Dale Earnhardt Jr., got the Chevrolet Lifetime Achievement award, and there were others too numerous to name.
Junior's retirement was of course big news, but he will be in the booth as an analyst with NBC Sports the last half of the 2018 season. He will also make an appearance on Fox early in the season, as he has been named grand marshal for the Daytona 500 in February. However, he won't be appearing on ABC in "Dancing with the Stars" as has been rumored. "That's never going to happen," said Earnhardt. "I promise you, there's nothing in this world that would be able to get me out on the dance floor." Earnhardt was mentioned in connection with the show's planned all-athlete edition next year, along with Colin Kaepernick, who apparently is free to compete.
Looking ahead to the 2018 NASCAR season, there are some major changes in the works. NASCAR is cutting back on the number of team members allowed at the track. The road crew will be limited to 12 members for Cup, seven for Xfinity, and five for Camping World Trucks. These job titles include crew chief, car chief, engineer, mechanic, shock specialist, tire specialist, and aero specialist. Organizational personnel such as competition director, team manager, technical director, and IT specialist are even more limited with only four allowed for Cup teams with more than two cars, and three for one and two-car teams. Only one person in these categories is allowed for Xfinity and Truck teams. But the most significant reduction is cutting the number of over-the-wall crew members from six to five. With fewer people to service pit stops, I doubt that we will be seeing many 12 and 13 second four-tire stops this season. Personally, I think it's time NASCAR allowed air jacks as are used in just about every other professional racing series. But that's just me.
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Other changes are in the cars and in the inspection process. A common flat splitter and radiator/oil cooler will be mandated for all cars, reducing front downforce by 100-120 pounds. Engine changes include using a sealed short-block engine for a minimum of 13 races and a single-engine rule for all races. For the non-points Clash and All-Star races teams will be allowed use of a long-block engine. But the most significant advance is the use of a camera-based inspection system, eliminating the grid, module, and Laser Inspection Station portions of the process. Hopefully, this will reduce the incidence of teams missing qualifying due to the lengthy inspection process.
Another change will be safety-related. The cars' incident data recorders (IDRs) will be powered by the car's battery, allowing pre-crash data to be analyzed as well as during and post-crash. A camera located to the right of the driver will capture events before and during a crash, helping NASCAR to make changes to improve driver protection.
And Kyle Larson got some good news during Championship week in Las Vegas. Credit One Bank, the Official Credit Card of NASCAR, will be the primary sponsor on the No. 42 Ganassi Chevrolet, replacing the departing Target, which is pulling out of race sponsorship. Larson's 2017 performance (four wins, eight second-place finishes) helped seal the deal with the bank.
Finally, we bid goodbye to another NASCAR legend. Bud Moore, famed crew chief and car owner, passed away at 92 last week. Moore won championships in 1957, 1960, and 1963 as crew chief and car owner, and won 63 races in those capacities. His last win was in 1993 at Sonoma. Moore was a World War II veteran who participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and won five purple hearts and two bronze stars for valor. He was a 2009 inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, an honor he considered the greatest of his life.
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