By Jim Utter
The Charlotte Observer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.: One thing NASCAR will have plenty of this season is change.
And from all accounts during NASCAR Media Day, the sport’s drivers appear eager to embrace it.
It seemed not a day went by during the sport’s abbreviated offseason where something didn’t change in NASCAR, whether it was teams changing drivers or crew chiefs, how the championship will be decided, new qualifying procedures or how penalties are assessed and appealed.
Collectively, the changes could be the most significant in NASCAR’s 66-year history. They have drawn an enormous amount of interest, even if some have been less positively received than others.
“I believe for all those who are complaining about [the new points system], they don’t like it or they’ll never watch another race, they’ll be tuned in,” said four-time Cup series champion Jeff Gordon. “It’s the ones who aren’t saying anything that you’re trying to grasp.
“I have a lot of friends in New York who are casual fans, and they’re talking to me about it. I think it’s already made an impact, and there is a lot of interest around the things they’ve already announced.
“That interest is only going to get greater once we go through a couple of the new qualifying sessions and go through one year of this points system.”
Driver Kevin Harvick could be considered the poster child of NASCAR’s season of change.
Harvick, 38, will begin his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing after spending virtually his entire career at Richard Childress Racing. He’ll have three new teammates and a new crew chief along with the familiar quest of winning his first Cup series championship.
“I love change, whether it be the changing of the sport or the changing of teams, learning the new names and faces and how the cars run and add in all the changes with [the rules],” he said. “As I’ve learned over the offseason, change can be very enthusiastic for not only myself but all the people around me. I think all the people at SHR would tell you the enthusiasm is contagious at the shop.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and hopefully the results this season will show that.”
It will take a little time before some of the changes become visible to fans. The first new qualifying sessions will be Friday in the Nationwide and Trucks series.
The first practical effect of the changes to the Chase will be realized in the Feb. 23 season-opening Daytona 500, the winner of which, for all intents and purposes, will become the first driver to clinch one of 16 spots in the Chase.
“I think this is now my 10th or 11th Daytona 500 and I don’t think I’ve ever tried to lose it, but I haven’t won it yet,” Kyle Busch said. “It would certainly be nice to be the winner and to be considered into the Chase right off the bat and into the first race.
“It’s still a long season — you’ve got 26 races to get it done and to get yourself locked in. You’ve got more positions now than ever to get locked in.”
Reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said no one should be surprised NASCAR Chairman Brian France is willing to shake things up.
“Fan or participant, it is a lot of change,” he said. “I really think they’re for the betterment of the sport.
“Brian’s made it clear: The success of this sport is on his shoulders. He’s going to make change and not be afraid to make change.”