Morning Coffee at the track.

As we approach another year of racing, talk always comes to days gone by. This year is no exception and everyone has their own hopes for a season and their own memories of the last and a checklist of things they want to do this year. A friend told me they simply want to join me for coffee at a race… It is one of my favorite times of the weekend.

My father and I camp at Road America, you’ll always find us in the same campsite. Every year we have the screen tent set up and the Coleman stove fires that which gives us life, coffee. Coffee fresh from the percolator. If you’ve ever had to do this process, you might understand what I am about to get into.

I camp in a tent, I like to rough it a little and regardless, I couldn’t sleep at the track. I am like a seven year old the night before Christmas, I am live with energy, plug me in and I could power a city. So I don’t sleep so much as rest. Inevitably I make it through the night and I see those dark skies turn to grey and I unzip my sleeping bag and roll out of the tent.

Standing in that Road America grass, dew wet on my toes and soaking my sandals I take the first stretch of the day and look to that early sunrise. I always stop a moment and enjoy the peace at the track, the time when nobody is up, maybe a generator running in the background but otherwise still and silent. A sunrise offers promise of a new day, the excitement which it holds…. Will my team win or lose, will someone crash or will every pit stop be flawless? Are the crews up, are they worried, has last night’s rain hurt the car or is there still rubber on the track?

I open the screen tent and roll the door back and tie it wide. Opening the Coleman stove I have to wonder if there’s enough fluid in the tank or if I should add some. I could check, but I pump it first because coffee sounds more important than that whole deal of smelling Coleman fluid on my hands. I pump the tank and open it wide…. I never have a lighter or match or burning piece of paper ready, so I shut it off and spend 5 minutes looking for dry paper. Then I pump the tank pressure up some more…

After  the stove is lit and warming up I open my small plastic container of coffee beans. Before I leave home I grind up a half pound of fresh coffee beans. My dad says no coffee is as good as mine. I always buy the best for race weekend. $13/pound Cameron’s Coffee, fair trade organic Birdwatcher’s Blend. I fish the plastic spoon out of the grounds and spoon some into the perc filter. Filled with fresh “potable” water I lower the filter and stem, the “Guts”, into the pot and hope like hell it perks instead of boiling over.

Sitting down on the picnic table I just stare at the new day. Seriously thinking of the coming events. I’ll look at the cribbage board that we play at. Some years ahead, some years behind, we play games until we can’t anymore. Is the pot boiling over? Crap! Gotta lower the heat, damnit.

As the coffee comes up and I use my shirt to pull it off the stove by the metal handle, I plan breakfast. Usually eggs and bacon, bacon first, then eggs with onions and green peppers and mushrooms and I’ve made too much…

I wake my dad and pour my coffee, 2 cubes of sugar and milk or creamer. He always takes his black. These opening moments together are a blessed experience. We can talk work and fishing and hunting and racing. My father enjoys racing about half as much as I do which probably equals roughly more than the average fan because I am a certifiable nut.

We watch as people get up and we enjoy the morning, the coffee, the food. This is when I do my best writing and thinking, this is when I start feeling the crews in the garage.

I feel them in the garage, I don’t see them there… I just know they are there. At Road America we camp in turn 8 which is about a mile from the garage, but I have this sense that cars are being worked on and under.

Its those moments I live for. The coffee and the talk. The hope of a win and the questions of what is to come. This year more than any, small teams will have a chance at a big day. This year, strategy will come in to play. It’s these moments over coffee when I think of the strategies, when I think of the guys celebrating a win, when I think of the small teams celebrating their first top 10 of the year. How awesome that feeling?

So this year, enjoy the coffee. Enjoy the days. Enjoy the race. Just never take it for granted, because one day…. one day…. there may not be another chance to do that very thing. When your team closes their doors or your track shuts down or you no longer have that person to go to the races with…. The dew on your toes, that fresh shower on a beautiful summer morning, that too big breakfast, that talk, those hopes, those dreams….. Morning coffee… will be what you treasure and miss the most.

I’ll see you from the box.

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P.S. Coffee will be ready by 6 am and I think I am getting a French press this year. Bring your own cup.

2017 NASCAR Format

Race Fans! Did you hear that sound? That was the bomb dropped on the entire NASCAR fan base today. I say fan base because most everyone in the sport knew it was coming. There’s a whole lot of format changes for how points are awarded for a race, how the points are awarded throughout the season for the playoffs, and how they affect the playoffs. These changes are effective immediately for all 3 national touring series and the caution clock in the truck series is no more.

First, each race will consist of 3 segments. Before the race, segment ends will be announced. These segments will be definite and should coincide with race quarters or as near to it as they can get. If you are under yellow or under green, the segment end remains the same. Teams will not be allowed to pit within 5 laps of segment end.

At the end of the first and second segment the top 10 drivers will be awarded race points.

10 points to first, 9 points to second, and on down to tenth place receiving 1 point. Segment winners will be awarded 1 playoff point. We will discuss playoff points in a little bit.

The final segment points will be awarded, 40 points to first, 39 to the second and on down the line as usual. 5 playoff points will be awarded to the winner also. There are no longer lap leader bonus points.

The Chase name is no longer used, it is simply the playoffs. This allows teams to better communicate with potential sponsors using already established ideas. Sponsors understand what playoffs are, not necessarily what “The Chase” is in NASCAR. Playoff points will now carry through every round of the playoffs. Regular season Champion will be awarded 15 playoff points, 10 for second, 8 for third and 1 less per position down to 10th place in regular season points receiving 1 playoff point.

Races will no longer be “official” at the halfway point. Races will become official at the end of the second segment.

Additional rule changes; Daytona Twin 150’s will award race points to the top 10, just like segments but will not be awarded playoff points. NASCAR will now have more restrictions and limits on crash/damage repairs. Team will NO LONGER BE ALLOWED TO REPLACE BODY PANELS. 

Now comes the big question, what does this mean for us fans?

First, less green flag interruption. Everyone on tonight’s panel kept coming back to this. Broadcast partners were involved in the entire process. With guaranteed breaks, television will cut away from green flag action less. When a segment ends TV will cut to a commercial. TV will come back for segment ends Pitstops, cutaway to commercial, come back for in-car driver is nthe view for the segment winner or crew chief interview. TV cuts away, when they return, it is back to green flag racing. This means less yellow flag laps, more green flag laps on TV. This has been a constant gripe with all fans and now we have a potential answer.

Secondly, this will ensure drivers are actually racing throughout the race. Drivers, team owners, officials, all the NASCAR brass refuse to admit that drivers would ride around and log laps. Not all but many would. I point to Tony Stewart who in 2006 at the first Pocono race wrecked Clint Bowyer because, “He was racing me too hard, too early. It’s time to settle in and log laps.” It’s not hard to see. Drivers would get single file and ride around, clicking off laps and many fans would tune in for the first 10-20 laps and then turn to something else. They would check back 2-3 hours later for the final 20 laps. We all know it because racing action often suffered with drivers just trying to log laps. If they want the most points possible, they will have to race… HARD. This is a huge win for fans who watch the entire race.

Next, regular season means something again! It means something from the Daytona qualifying races all the way to the last race. Playoff points carry over so your regular season champion always has the advantage, by the same amount. Race hard every race, take a pile of points into the playoffs.

Also, if your driver/team are running good and get taken out by someone else’s wreck after the second segment, they may still have a decent points day. If you run third in the first 2 segments and finish 30th, they would end the day with 27 points. Someone who runs 25th the first 2 segments and then finishes 15th will only take home 26 points. So your bad day can be better than someone who runs in the back and tries to point their way in through attrition.

Not being able to replace body panels will be a double edged sword. IF you can get back on track, you’ll be a lot slower. On the plus side, it will be safer for everyone if you don’t have body panels falling off. This should also reduce the number of duct tape cautions and overall track debris. However, if you’re like the 3 team at Talladega and can beat the fire out of it with a hammer, wood block, car chief body, and duct tape the body together, you will be one of few cars that can continue.

I’m going to slant this toward us 3 team fans, because that’s who matters to me (haha joking here). Austin Dillon is able to conserve his tires which we already know is going to be a hot ticket item this year. He tends to stay out of trouble, as long as the brakes aren’t self destructing. Austin has always raced the entire race. Very few times has he ever settled in and logged laps. He’s a real racer at heart and just cannot stop pushing. The 3 team as a whole refuses to quit, refuses to give up. Lead by Slugger Labbe and Greg Ebert, this team always finds a way to soldier on and complete the most laps possible.

After the announcement, 3 team crew chief, Slugger Labbe said, “I love and accept the new challenges from NASCAR today. A totally new twist for our sport.” Echoing that same sentiment, engine tuner for Austin Dillon, Frank Mathalia said, “I’m also pretty excited for it after I figured it all out.” Our team is excited, they are ready, they will adapt and excel with the new format. Just 26 days until the Dow Chevrolet takes to the track for the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona. Let’s get excited and give them a big send off! Til then…

See you from the box!

2017 Cup Series Rule Change analysis

Happy 2017! We are fast approaching a new year of racing, with a new sponsor and new premiere series name. Along with that comes a few changes and I’d like to explore them a little, give you my feedback, and see what you all think. So let’s get in and get on with it!

First of all, welcome new series sponsor…. Monster Energy! Monster brings with it some new fans, some new ideas, and some news things that will be hard to say. Say it with me, “Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series” which differentiates it from the Monster Energy Cup which is the series name for the popular Supercross series. I know, it’s going to be rough getting through, but let’s just abbreviate it, MEN Cup Series. Wait, scratch that. That sounds like an athletic supporter! So I will call it the Cup Series, as I always have.

Lets look at the safety changes next. These are just all around good ideas. Roof Hatch will be mandatory on all cars at Daytona and Talladega for the Cup Series and Xfinty Series cars. Why? It gives all drivers another option for egress, very quickly. It will also be optional at all other venues. It makes sense. If it is easier to get out and quicker in case of fire or other danger, why not have it available? It has also been mandated that Energy Absorbing Material must be used to reinforce the toe box, leg area, to help prevent injuries like those sustained by Kyle Busch. This is mandatory at Daytona and Talladega. NASCAR has also raised the minimum weight for cars by 20 pounds to encourage this at ALL venues. Again, it’s a great idea and could save a driver. Why wouldn’t you do it?

Now on to the fun, the competition changes. Of course, there may be more coming, so watch for the next article, but this is just an overview of what’s known right now…

Restrictor Plates! The fun, the fun, the fun. Yes, everyone knew it would be happening because it seems we can’t keep the same plate for long. So what are we gonna do with it? Make it smaller. Yes, we are gonna starve these motors a little more, choke them down and take away power. This means throttle response will be worse. You hit the throttle and… wait for it…. wait for it… wait for it… Now go! If you get out of the throttle anywhere, you are losing positions, fast! That’s gonna make the cars slower at Daytona and Talladega, right?

NO! The Restrictor plate is essentially a balance to our next change, the rear spoiler. Yes, we have tried to mess with it, we have tried high downforce and low downforce packages. NASCAR  Cup series was at 3.5 inches, well, we tried 2.5 inches and everyone loved it! So we are going to a 2.5 inch spoiler, right? No. No we aren’t. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, so we are cutting that sucker down to 2.35 inches. Put your thumbs together, side by side… That’s the height of your spoiler now.

Cutting the spoiler down will have a few results. First thing, faster! That’s why we closed up the plates. Faster is great on the straights, but that means a lot less downforce for corners. Less downforce on the rear means you will have to reduce the downforce up front or you will get a perpetually loose car. That means the rear end is going to want to come around faster when you turn the wheel, which means the teams will be working even harder on side force. The air pressure along the side of the car will help keep it headed in the right direction when you turn the wheel. That means if you like the drinking game, side force is your key phrase every week. All of this, puts more on the driver and that creates better racing, so… I’m kind of excited. It will benefit some and hurt others.

“Tires Cole, tires. Tires is what wins races.” This year, we are going to notice a small adjustment in tire allotment for the Cup Series. For ease, I am starting with the last race, Homestead-Miami. The Finale. Teams will have 2 fewer sets of tires for the weekend. Daytona 500, Phoenix, Auto Club Speedway, Martinsville, Bristol, Kansas, Kentucky, and Chicagoland teams will be issued one less set for the weekend. That’s going to put some strategy back into these races. You can’t stop everytime and take 4 tires if you get a caution heavy race.

There’s a few events that will receive one additional set; Daytona (summer night),  Talladega, Sonoma, New Hampshire, Watkins Glen, and Darlington. Darlington you could give them 40 sets for the weekend and they would still want more, so that just makes sense. Sonoma, Watkins Glen…. They don’t use their allotment of tires and try to only pit twice so that doesn’t matter a whole lot. The only track it might really help at is New Hampshire. Other than that, it’s an extra set to practice on.

We do have one last tire rule, it’s going to make things… INTERESTING. Cup Series must start on the same tires they qualified on. Not a big deal, right? Well, it could be. If you make it to the third session of qualifying, you may have as many as six additional laps on your tires compared to someone who did not make the final round. You may have upwards of 12 more laps on your tires than those who didn’t make the second session. Provided qualifying stays the same… Let’s say you make the final round but had to go out twice in the first round, twice in the second round, once in the third. 3 laps each time, that’s 15 laps. You qualify 10th or 12th, now the guy in 13th may have gone out once in the first, once in the second, he has 9 laps less on his tires. This means his tires may be as much as a second faster than your’s. So you will need to play strategy to get your best possible start. Qualifying 13-15 may be better than qualifying 10-12. This can make the opening laps a lot more fun.

This is all that is known for sure right now. Monday at 6pm NASCAR will have an announcement live on The NASCAR app. It is quite possible that they may be announcing a new qualifying format and/or a new points format. They may award points in qualifying or they may award points at multiple times during a race like IMSA does for their Endurance Cup in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. There may be other changes, maybe even… MONSTER changes! Ha! See what I did there? Yeah, lame, but it’s a free article. I will await the changes before I get too deep into them, because I don’t want to get people excited or upset about what may or may not happen.

See you from the box!