We’re just 42 days from the 2016 Daytona 500 as we count down the top stories of the new year.
Legendary racer Tony Stewart announced his impending retirement near the end of the 2015 season. Stewart’s career is long and storied–his impressive resume includes 48 wins, three Nascar championships, and a 1997 IndyCar championship to boot. Stewart, the first owner-driver to win a championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992, is expected to retain his stake in Stewart-Haas Racing while giving up his ride to Clint Bowyer in 2017. Beset by a broken leg in 2013 and the tragic Sprint Car accident which killed Kevin Ward, Jr in 2014, Stewart has failed to win a race in 2.5 years, finishing 25th or lower in points each of the last 3 seasons. While it’s unlikely that Smoke will go out racing for a championship, look for him to try and capture his first ever Daytona 500 victory when he suits up for his last season.
After the 2014 season, which produced some of the best racing in recent memory, Nascar tweaked its rules package for 2015. The result? The quality of racing dropped–fans and drivers complained that the new cars were hard to pass with and led to boring follow-the-leader races. Thankfully, Nascar listened. It modified the rules package again for the upcoming 2016 season, creating low-downforce parts that will cause the cars to slide around more on the track, making them harder to drive and easier to pass. The package’s test at Kentucky produced record numbers of green-flag passes. Look for more of the same in 2016.
Nascar’s 2015 rookie class was, to put it lightly, weak. After a strong group in 2014, 2015 featured little-known drivers such as Brett Moffitt, who captured the Rookie of the Year award despite finishing in the top 30 just twice throughout the season. 2016 promises to feature an exciting battle. Chase Elliott will move up from the XFINITY series to replace Jeff Gordon in the #24 car, while Ryan Blaney will take over the Wood Brothers #21 Chevy and XFINITY series champion Chris Buescher will drive for Front Row Motorsports. These three young drivers have all run very strong in Nascar’s lower levels. It’ll be exciting to see them try and take their talent to the big leagues.