Column: Dog days of winter bring NASCAR

Published 12:37 pm Wednesday, January 12, 2005

By Staff
The dog days of winter are already here as far as I am concerned.
If you don't really care about pro basketball and your favorite pro football team has already been eliminated from the playoffs, then what is there to watch on television?
I don't follow college basketball until tournament time in March, so my choices are really limited.
A quick glance at the NASCAR website tells me that there are only 40 days remaining to the Daytona 500. Preseason Thunder is already under way in Daytona as testing has begun.
Tuesday through Thursday of this week and then Jan. 18-20 will find drivers in the NEXTEL Cup Series testing at Daytona in preparation of Speed Weeks in February.
Just the thought of NASCAR returning has got my blood pumping.
Before long it will be the 2005 season opener. Then, before I know it, it will be June and time to trek to Brooklyn for the first of two races at Michigan International Speedway.
There is something about the coming season that has me ready to go.
This will be the second year of the Chase for the Cup. I was not a big fan of the change in format, but will admit that it did provide the most dramatic finish in the history of NASCAR.
My concern is that the drama was created for television and not by those involved with the racing on the track.
I liked the old format, but with a few reservations.
I too felt that NASCAR didn't reward winning a race nearly as well as it should have. The old format rewarded consistency, not winning.
Let's face it, winning is the only thing that is important when it comes to sports. Nobody likes to finish second and nobody remembers the runner-up.
So if NASCAR could have just figured out a way to make winning the most important part of winning a championship, then they could have left the rest of the format alone.
This coming season will be one I will watch closely because of the fact that Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin are going to be retiring after this year.
There are not two classier guys in all of sports than Wallace and Martin. These two have handled themselves with dignity and been a true role model for others to follow.
NASCAR could have no two better ambassadors than Wallace and Martin. They will be sorely missed following this season.
While Martin may not be seen much around racing after this coming season, Wallace will be around for quite some time. He owns a Busch Series team and will be visible to fans.
There will be a lot of questions answered when the flag drops in Daytona.
Among them will be can Roush Racing win a third consecutive championship?
Will the changes at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI) finally produce a championship for Junior or Michael Waltrip?
Can DEI win back-to-back Busch Series championships with Martin Truex Jr.?
Can either Wallace or Martin finally win the Daytona 500? It took 20 years for Dale Earnhardt to do it. Wallace will be making his 23rd attempt at NASCAR's biggest race, while Martin will take the starting flag for the 20th time.
Can Kurt Busch repeat as NASCAR champion, or will he find the same fate as 2003 winner Matt Kenseth?
Will Jeff Gordon be able to rebound from the disappointment of not winning in 2004 to claim his fifth NEXTEL Cup championship?
 Which rookie or second year driver will step forward and make a run at the championship?
Will Kasey Kahne finally earn his first career victory in 2005?
Can Ryan Newman turn success in qualifying into a NEXTEL Cup championship?