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NASCAR season preview at a glance

Complicated times

NASCAR simplified its starting times last season and will stick with those times in 2011 — until the Chase for the Championship rolls around.

Last year, NASCAR moved all starting times for Cup races to 1:15 p.m. for eastern races, 3:15 for central or western races and 7:45 for night races, except for the Coca-Cola 600.

That will remain the case for the first 26 races — the Coca-Cola 600 will start at 6:15 — but this year's Chase races will start later to avoid a conflict with the kickoff of NFL games.

The first four Chase races (Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Dover and Kansas) will start at 2:15, then Charlotte at 7:45 and Talladega at 2:15.

NASCAR also lists a 2:15 start time at Martinsville but expects the race to start at 2 because the track has no lights.

Starting times for races at Texas and Phoenix remain at 3:15 as they were last year. The finale at Homestead is set for 3:15. Last year, the finale started at 1:15.

Changing times

NASCAR made two controversial changes in the offseason, introducing a radically different points system and a somewhat tweaked Chase for the Championship setup.

The new points system awards 43 points to race winners, plus three bonus points. Second place is worth 42, third place 41 and so forth down to one point for 43rd and last place. In NASCAR trucks the last-place finisher gets eight points since those races have 36 in the field. Also, anyone leading a lap gets a bonus point.

The Chase for the Championship will still involve 12 drivers. But now only the top 10 after 26 races will get in automatically. The final two spots will go to the drivers with the most wins, as long as they're in the top 20 in points. Ties are broken by points position; so if the drivers in 12th, 15th and 18th each have a win and nobody else in the top 20 does, the drivers in 12th and 15th will make the Chase. The top 12 drivers will be reset to 2000 points and drivers 1-10 will get three bonus points per win.

Let the little ones in

NASCAR is become more kid-friendly by allowing children into the garage on race days. The revision to the garage access policy will let adults with approved credentials bring their children into garages during the pre-race period on race days. Each child will be issued a special credential. There is no minimum age requirement. The policy, announced Monday, follows a relaxed dress code. NASCAR will for the first time allow shorts, open-toed shoes, sleeveless blouses and skirts and dresses in the garage.

Rookie shortage

Aside from Joey Logano's debut in 2009, in which he won Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year and set the series record as youngest race winner, the past few years have seen a thin crop of rookies.

This year they're even harder to find.

Trevor Bayne might be a candidate for the top rookie honor even in a part-time ride with the Wood Brothers. But there's one problem: NASCAR announced last week that it will not let a driver earn the rookie award without declaring to run for the season championship in that series. This is the first season NASCAR is only letting drivers compete for the title in one of three major series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide or trucks.

Bayne is scheduled to run at least 17 Sprint Cup races in the No. 21 Ford but he's competing full-time in the second-tier Nationwide series for Roush Fenway Racing and will only compete for that title.

That leaves Brian Keselowski and Andy Lally, neither of whom is promised a full-time ride, as perhaps the only contenders.

Last year Kevin Conway was Rookie of the Year but only ran 28 races with two teams and was 35th in points. In 2008 Regan Smith won the honor but promptly lost his full-time ride and has been with the underfunded Furniture Row Racing team since.

Daytona by the numbers

1 Times that car No. 1 has won the Daytona 500 (Jamie McMurray last year)

2 Fewest laps led by Daytona 500 winner (McMurray again)

12.8 Average finish for Clint Bowyer, best among active drivers with at least 10 starts; he has 10 at the 2.5-mile superspeedway

20 Sprint Cup starts for Dave Blaney, the most ever by a driver without a top-10 finish

400 Sprint Cup starts for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Sunday

9,582 Record number of laps run by Bill Elliott in Sprint Cup races at Daytona; last year he broke Dave Marcis' record of 9,529

Silly season comings and goings

Drivers who have moved teams during the offseason:

Driver 2010 car/team 2011 car/team

Marcos Ambrose No. 47 JTG Daugherty No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports

Trevor Bayne Nationwide series No. 21 Wood Brothers (part-time)

Dave Blaney three teams No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing

Bill Elliott No. 21 Wood Brothers (part-time) No. 09 Phoenix Racing (part-time)

Kasey Kahne No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports No. 4 Red Bull Racing

Bobby Labonte four teams, mostly No. 71 TRG No. 47 JTG Daugherty

Paul Menard No. 98 Richard Petty Motorsports No. 27 Richard Childress Racing

Mike Skinner Truck series No. 32 Frank Stoddard

Information from the Associated Press, Sporting News, scenedaily.com, jayski.com and racing-reference.info was used in this report, which was complied by Times staff.

Don't lose that number

Only three drivers who have carried the No. 17 in Sprint Cup have won races. But it's quite a trio: All three won Cup championships, according to The Sporting News:

m David Pearson had 30 victories and two titles (1968 and '69) in the No. 17

m Darrell Waltrip won 15 times with the number

m 2003 champion Matt Kenseth has all of his 18 wins carrying No. 17.

The No. 17 has made 1,410 starts, surpassed by four numbers:

Starts: 1771

1693

1596

1464

Complicated times

NASCAR simplified its starting times last season and will stick with those times in 2011 — until the Chase for the Championship rolls around.

Last year, NASCAR moved all starting times for Sprint Cup races to 1:15 p.m. for eastern races, 3:15 for central or western races, and 7:45 for night races, except for the Coca-Cola 600.

That will remain the case for the first 26 races — the Coca-Cola 600 will start at 6:15 — but this year's Chase races will start later to avoid a conflict with the kickoff of NFL games.

The first four Chase races (Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Dover and Kansas) will start at 2:15, then Charlotte at 7:45 and Talladega at 2:15.

The race at Martinsville is the exception during the Chase; it is listed as a 1:30 start time because the track has no lights.

Starting times for races at Texas and Phoenix remain at 3:15 as they were last year. The finale at Homestead is set for 3:15. Last year, the finale started at 1:15.

Changing times

NASCAR made two controversial changes in the offseason, introducing a radically different points system and a somewhat tweaked Chase for the Championship setup.

The new points system awards 43 points to race winners, plus three bonus points. Second place is worth 42, third place 41 and so forth down to one point for 43rd and last place. In NASCAR trucks the last-place finisher gets eight points since those races have 36 in the field. Also, anyone leading a lap gets a bonus point.

The Chase for the Championship will still involve 12 drivers. But now only the top 10 after 26 races will get in automatically. The final two spots will go to the drivers with the most wins, as long as they're in the top 20 in points. Ties are broken by points position; so if the drivers in 12th, 15th and 18th each have a win and nobody else in the top 20 does, the drivers in 12th and 15th will make the Chase. The top 12 drivers will be reset to 2000 points and drivers 1-10 will get three bonus points per win.

Let the little ones in

NASCAR is becoming more kid-friendly by allowing children into the garage on race days. The revision to the garage-access policy will let adults with approved credentials bring their children into garages during the prerace period on race days. Each child will be issued a special credential. There is no minimum age requirement. The policy, announced Monday, follows a relaxed dress code. For the first time NASCAR will allow shorts, open-toed shoes, sleeveless blouses and skirts and dresses in the garage.

Rookie shortage

Aside from Joey Logano's debut in 2009, in which he won Sprint Cup rookie of the year and set the series record as youngest race winner, the past few years have seen a thin crop of rookies.

This year they're even harder to find.

Trevor Bayne might be a candidate for the top rookie honor even in a part-time ride with the Wood Brothers. But there's one problem: NASCAR announced last week that it will not let a driver earn the rookie award without declaring to run for the season championship in that series. This is the first season NASCAR is only letting drivers compete for the title in one of three major series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide or trucks.

Bayne is scheduled to run at least 17 Sprint Cup races in the No. 21 Ford, but he's competing full time in the second-tier Nationwide series for Roush Fenway Racing and will only compete for that title.

That leaves Brian Keselowski and Andy Lally, neither of whom is promised a full-time ride, as perhaps the only contenders.

Last year Kevin Conway was rookie of the year but only ran 28 races with two teams and was 35th in points. In 2008 Regan Smith won the honor but promptly lost his full-time ride and has been with the underfunded Furniture Row Racing team since.

Daytona by the numbers

1 Time that car No. 1 has won the Daytona 500 (Jamie McMurray last year).

2 Laps, the fewest led by a Daytona 500 winner (McMurray again).

400 Sprint Cup starts for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Sunday.

12.8 Average finish for Clint Bowyer, best among active drivers with at least 10 starts; he has 10 at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

20 Sprint Cup starts for Dave Blaney, the most by a driver without a top 10 finish.

9,582 Laps by Bill Elliott, the record for Sprint Cup races at Daytona; last year he broke Dave Marcis' record of 9,529.

Silly season comings and goings

Drivers who have moved teams during the offseason:

Driver 2010 car/team 2011 car/team

Marcos Ambrose No. 47 JTG Daugherty No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports

Trevor Bayne Nationwide series No. 21 Wood Brothers (part time)

Dave Blaney Three teams No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing

Bill Elliott No. 21 Wood Brothers (part time) No. 09 Phoenix Racing (part time)

Kasey Kahne No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports No. 4 Red Bull Racing

Bobby Labonte Four teams, mostly No. 71 TRG No. 47 JTG Daugherty

Paul Menard No. 98 Richard Petty Motorsports No. 27 Richard Childress Racing

Mike Skinner Truck series No. 32 Frank Stoddard

Don't lose that number

Only three drivers who have carried the No. 17 in Sprint Cup have won races. But it's quite a trio: All three won Cup championships, according to the Sporting News:

m David Pearson had 30 victories and two titles (1968 and '69) in the No. 17

m Darrell Waltrip had 15 wins with the number (no titles, they came in No. 11)

m 2003 champion Matt Kenseth has all of his 18 wins carrying No. 17.

The No. 17 has made 1,410 starts, surpassed by four numbers:

Starts:

1,771

1,693

1,596

1,464

Information from the Associated Press, Sporting News, scenedaily.com, jayski.com and racing-reference.info was used in this report.

NASCAR season preview at a glance 02/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 8:26pm]
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