Top 10 Tuesday: Looking Ahead to 2015
It's hard to believe that the 2015 NASCAR race season is less than two months away. After all, the 2014 edition was one of the best to date. It featured a little bit of everything from Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger earning a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship to Kevin Harvick going back-to-back in the final two weeks of the season to clinch his first tile.
Yes, the upcoming race season will have a hard time following last year's act, but with new racing packages and drivers in new places, this could absolutely be one of the best years to be a race fan.
Here's a list of the top 10 storylines to watch as the new race season gets set to drop the green flag on Feb. 22 at Daytona International Speedway:
- Carl Edwards in a Toyota - One of the strangest sights to begin the 2015 season will be Cousin Carl behind the wheel of a Toyota. Since breaking into the NASCAR scene in 2002, Edwards has known nothing other than Ford. He raced a Ford in 60 career Camping World Truck Series starts; he drove a Ford in 244 of 245 starts in the XFINITY Series (he drove a Chevrolet in his first-career start); and he has been behind the wheel of a Ford for 373 starts in the Sprint Cup Series. Heck, he even drove a Ford in his lone start in the Whelen Modified Tour, which was at NHMS, to boot. It will look weird, for sure, but will certainly be a sight to see all season long.
- Rules Packages for 2015 - There will be close to 60 different updates to the rules and competition packages by the time the Gen-6 takes the track this season. From enhanced enforcement of existing rules to new officiating processes to newly approved parts to updated business processes, NASCAR has put an emphasis on making this season the most competitive, safe, affordable, environmentally-sound season yet.
- Rain? No problem - Part of the aforementioned rules packages and changes includes the possibility of racing in the rain at either Watkins Glen or Sonoma Raceway road course tracks. Similar to rules in place for the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series, the Gen-6 would be equipped with wipers, defogger and rear flashing rain lights, which would be installed for the event weekend.
- New Chief for Junior - One year after guiding 18-year-old Chase Elliott to the XFINITY Series championship in 2014, Greg Ives will face the astronomical pressure of trying to do the same thing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Sprint Cup Series. Ives takes over for the departed Steve Letarte, who will spend this season in the NBC broadcast booth on commentary.
- Repeat for Harvick? - Although it took Happy Harvick a win in the final two weeks of the Chase to clinch the Sprint Cup title, the right man was certainly holding up the trophy at the season's completion in Homestead. Harvick was the fastest car week in and week out last season, but will have his hands full this season with the new rules package as he vies for a repeat.
- A rookie no more - With 17 top-10s and a Rookie of the Year Award under his belt, Kyle Larson has certainly set the stage for himself to have a big year in 2015. It's hard to believe that he finished last year without a win, but it's only a matter of time for the Chip Ganassi Racing sophomore.
- New year for Stewart - Tony Stewart will never be able to forget what happened in 2014. It was a difficult year both on and off the track for Smoke, but he did finish the season on a positive note. The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing watched Harvick win the team its second championship in four years. Maybe that will help Stewart move on as best as he can and try and start fresh in 2015.
- Seven or five? - Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are teammates at Hendrick Motorsports. But both are eyeing one title as the season readies. Johnson is looking for his seventh championship of the decade, while Gordon's "Drive for Five" is still very much alive after a scintillating 2014 campaign that would have ended in another championship under the non-Chase format. Both will be contenders out of the gates in 2015.
- New Broadcast Crew (NBC) - The new season means a new partner on television as NBC takes over the broadcasting duties for NASCAR. That means new hosts, commentators, graphics packages and, most likely, a new approach to how the sport is broadcast.
- Chase Grid Part II - Last year's postseason was one of the most exciting in the sport's history, and certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to changing how championships are won. With veteran contenders and new faces making last year's new championship format, there's plenty of reason to be excited about what will happen in 2015.