Before we can fill out our cheat sheets or prepare our draft strategies for the 2016 NASCAR season, there are many changes that we need to take into account to be prepared for any fantasy racing league. We'll take an in-depth look at some of these changes that we will see, and some that aren't so apparent when the engines fire up at Daytona in February.
Thanks to the usual silly season movement and free-agent driver signings, several drivers moved to new teams in 2016. A handful of teams are shutting down and some are starting new. A few teams have merged or contracted to stay competitive. Also, a handful of driver/team swaps have taken place; among the most notable are the Clint Bowyer and Chase Elliott moves.
|DRIVER||NEW TEAM||OLD TEAM|
|Erik Jones||TBD Joe Gibbs Racing||Multiple Teams|
|Ty Dillon||TBD Richard Childress Racing||3 Xfinity Series|
|Brian Scott||9 Richard Petty Motorsports||2 Xfinity Series|
|Chase Elliott||24 Hendrick Motorsports||9 Xfinity Series|
|Jeffrey Earnhardt||32 Go FAS Racing ||55 Xfinity Series|
|Chris Buescher||34 Front Row Motorsports||60 Xfinity Series|
|Clint Bowyer||15 HScott Motorsports||15 Michael Waltrip Racing|
|TBD||62 Premium Motorsports||TBD|
|TBD||98 Premium Motorsports||TBD|
NASCAR made several tweaks to knockout qualifying last season during the regular season. With several incidents and accidents blamed on the format, especially on the larger speedways, NASCAR enacted some enhancements. Those are expected to remain in effect in 2016.
Qualifying for the Talladega Superspeedway races, as well as the events at Daytona International Speedway, will consist of the following:
Two rounds of qualifying; top-12 lap speeds advance to the second round
Cars take one timed lap in each round of qualifying
Cars will be released in a predetermined timed interval as determined by NASCAR, which can allow multiple cars attempt qualifying runs simulataneously
First-round qualifying order determined by a random draw; final-round qualifying order determined by slowest to fastest first-round speeds
10-minute break between the first qualifying round and final round
After first qualifying round, field will be set with positions 13 and beyond determined from first-round qualifying speed
12 fastest cars from the first round will have their speeds reset for the final round with starting positions 1-12 determined by the fastest first-round laps
NASCAR will impound cars following each qualifying lap; vehicles advancing to final round will be allowed to adjust tape and utilize a cool-down unit during the 10-minute break only
Those enhancements seemed to resolve most of the problems with qualifying on the larger ovals. The new format still seems to be a work in progress, so we wouldn't rule out more changes to qualifying in 2016. It seems that complaints and driver feedback are the biggest points pushing the changes that NASCAR makes. While the knockout qualifying has come a long way since its introduction, there are still quirks that will be worked out as we continue to discover more issues.
The Chase for the Cup
Given the success of the playoff format over the last two seasons, NASCAR decided not to make any changes to the Chase for the Cup in 2015. While nothing has been announced about the 2016 Chase, we expect the status quo to remain in effect. The current "winner-take-all" elimination format has given us two great season finales the last two seasons. We wouldn't rule out the possibility of minor tweaks, but the basic framework of the Chase for the Cup should remain unchanged.
The 16-driver field and four-round elimination style format should remain unchanged in 2016, though NASCAR has a penchant for adjusting and changing rules on the fly.
Intermediate Ovals - Low Downforce Package
NASCAR announced in October last year that the low downforce aerodynamic package used at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway last season will be rolled out at most tracks in the 2016 season. The package reduces downforce by roughly 25 percent from the 3,200 pounds used on the other speedways. The new package includes a smaller spoiler (3.5 inches tall instead of 6 inches), a shorter splitter (a quarter-inch overhang instead of 2 inches) and a smaller radiator pan (33 inches wide instead of 38). It is the same package used at Kentucky and Darlington with the exception of the radiator pan, which was 28 inches in diameter.
The low downforce package was well-received by fans and drivers alike last year at the Kentucky and Darlington events where it was employed. The drivers commented that it was easier to get close to other cars and make side-by-side passes without the negative aero affects we usually see when two cars run front-to-back at these intermediate ovals. In a sense it does make the cars harder to drive, and does put more on the driver's abilities to handle a car with less downforce. It should make for some very entertaining racing on the cookie cutter ovals in the upcoming season.
For the 15th consecutive year, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule will consist of 36 points races as well as two additional weekends featuring non-points events. The Sprint Unlimited (Feb. 13) and two Daytona 500 qualifying races (both Feb. 18) will take place before the season officially begins. The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will take place May 21.
Key date changes feature Dover's spring event moving up two weeks in the schedule to place it just before the All-Star break. Michigan's second date moves out two weeks to after the Bristol night race rather than before, as it was last season.
Other than the tweaks to the Dover and Michigan dates, NASCAR has left most of the schedule alone. The Chase lineup of tracks remains the same, as does the order. The season kicks off at the same time with Speedweeks and the Daytona 500 weekend. After several seasons of shakeups it appears we're settling into a pretty consistent pattern with the Sprint Cup Series schedule.
Sprint will conclude its sponsorship of NASCAR's top division at the end of the 2016 season. NASCAR has been diligently searching for a new corporate sponsor of its premier racing series, and nothing substantial has been disclosed yet. There is no specific timetable for an announcement, but the hope is the new title sponsor can be found and named so that a seamless transition into the role can be made. NASCAR has talked to a wide group of domestic, regional and international companies about the opportunity.
We expect that sometime during the first half of the upcoming season NASCAR will name their new title sponsor for the top racing series. That disclosure should be an exciting and media-hyped event. Other than a name change, we shouldn't notice much impact on the racing, competition or rules in what is currently called the Sprint Cup Series.