Here we are again.
There is more than a week before the 2015 NASCAR season will officially kick off at Daytona International Speedway with the season-opening races in the Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Truck series.
However, there are a few “unofficial” matters to deal with this week, namely Thursday’s Daytona 500 Media Day and Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited non-points race.
As Daytona Speedweeks gets underway, here are five things to watch as the newest NASCAR season unfolds:
1. Jeff Gordon’s farewell tour
Make no mistake, Jeff Gordon is going to be around NASCAR for many years to come. But this season will be his last as a ful-ltime competitor in the Cup series.
Given his performance of a year ago, there is little reason to doubt Gordon will be a factor in this season’s championship.
How fitting would it be for his fifth championship – and first in the Chase format – to come on the 20th anniversary of his first title and in his final season?
2. Electronic pit-road officiating
NASCAR will utilize 45 HD video cameras to monitor the activity on pit road rather than rely on a single official assigned to each team’s pit stall, which it had been doing.
The system was tested at the end of the 2014 season but will get its first live test during Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited.
At least at the start of the season, there are likely to be more pit-road penalties than usual as teams become accustomed to far more rigid enforcement.
3. Kurt Busch’s fate
The 2014 season ended with Kurt Busch being investigated for a domestic assault incident involving his former girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll.
Here we are about to start the season and there still is no decision by Delaware authorities whether to charge him. He’s also awaiting a decision on a protective order sought by Driscoll.
With no clear resolution, Busch will begin the season with a cloud over his future. Should he be charged, he could face suspension by NASCAR, which would throw the season into chaos for himself and his Stewart-Haas Racing team, which would need to find a replacement driver.
4. Is Danica 3-and-out?
Fan favorite Danica Patrick enters her third full season in the Cup series and the final year of her contract with SHR and the sponsor of her team.
Whether her NASCAR experiment continues could depend on whether she makes significant improvement this season. She showed signs last season of gaining speed and improved significantly in qualifying.
However, she still finished 28th in the series standings, one spot lower than her rookie season.
5. New rules package
We’ll have to wait until the second race of the year, at Atlanta, to see the results of NASCAR’s new aerodynamic rules package for the Cup series.
NASCAR will use the same rules package on its superspeedway tracks as it did last season, which means no changes to the cars at Daytona or Talladega, Ala.