NASCAR waved the green flag on yet another season, kicking off the action on Feb. 24 with the always highly anticipated Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson walked away from the main event as the winner, and, unfortunately, the whole event was marred by a horrific accident in the Nationwide Series race, which sent car debris into the stands, severely injuring a number of fans.
The Daytona 500 certainly saw its shared of emotions, but fans walked away with their first glimpse on how this year would play out. Based on the weekend’s action, plus storylines that carried over from last year, here are four questions looming over this year’s NASCAR schedule.
Will this be a breakout year for Danica Patrick?
Converted Indy car superstar Danica Patrick was no doubt the focal point of the Daytona 500. Heck, Patrick probably got more media play than Jimmie Johnson, who actually won the race.
There are no indications that her popularity will subside, especially now that she is performing at a level that many die-hard fans expected she would. This will be her first full season in the Sprint Cup Series after appearing on and off in the circuit last season.
Many fans considered Patrick a novelty, parlaying her good looks and commercial appeal to win over fans. However, Patrick turned a lot of heads this weekend by becoming the first woman to win pole position at a NASCAR event. She hung strong in the front of the pack during the Daytona 500 to finish in eighth place.
One has to imagine Patrick relishes the idea of shutting her critics up and proving she can be a real contender in NASCAR.
What’s next for Brad Keselowski?
The 28-year-old Keselowski shocked the racing world by defying expectations and claiming last year’s Spring Cup Series. But, that was last year. Fans don’t care about that anymore. Now, in just the fourth season of his still-young career, Keselowski will be tasked with the chore of proving he can win consistently, and that last year was not a fluke.
He did that successfully at the Daytona 500, where he finished in fourth place.
Also, during his rise to success, Keselowski has developed a bad boy persona that has captured the attention of fans and NASCAR officials alike. He has accused the league’s upper brass of playing favorites and has been fined for live-Tweeting at NASCAR events. Is he the sport’s next bonafide rebel?
How will the Gen 6 cars change racing?
NASCAR unveiled the latest generation in cars — the Gen 6 car— looking more like the vehicles that are available on car lots and in show rooms. The cars are said to handle better, which is a plus for drivers. However, drivers and teams must rush to master the intricacies tied in with such cars.
Expect a learning curve in the early stages of the season. The teams that can get the kinks ironed out quickest will stand the greatest chance at being successful this year.
Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. emerge?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has long been the most popular figure in the sport. In fact, he earned that title in the Sprint Cup Series for 10-straight years now. Son of legend Dale Earnhardt, Junior continues to miss out on a Sprint Cup Series title. After finishing 12th last season, his droves of fans are wondering if the introduction of the Gen 6 car and his years of experience might be what Junior needs to get over the hump.