ThatsRacin

The one thing every new NASCAR season brings, and why 2019 is especially worth watching

Austin Dillon, center, celebrates on his car with crew members in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Austin Dillon, center, celebrates on his car with crew members in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) AP

Cars on the track.

It’s good to read, right? Feels just as good to write, if we’re being honest.

This weekend officially (sort of?) begins the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season. Come Sunday afternoon, just as it’ll be practically every weekend from now until November, there will be actual racing to watch. No more preseason chatter. No more predictions or artificial headlines.

Just actual cars, actually racing.

Welcome back.

Now, like I mentioned, it’s a bit of a stretch to anoint this weekend’s Advance Auto Parts Clash as the real start of the season. Yes, there will be real drivers at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, and yes, they will be racing. Only, not for points. Or anything that counts statistically. Or, truthfully, anything that matters (unless you count the generous cash prize for the winner (I’m sure the drivers do).

So no, the Clash is nothing more than a glorified appetizer...

But that’s all NASCAR fans, drivers and anyone else in the industry really needs it to be.

You see, the one thing that every new NASCAR season brings — regardless of champion, or any rules changes, or any extraneous drama going on — is the one thing that so endears us all to this time of year:

Hope.

Don’t write that off as stupid or silly, even if it sounds like it at first. Think about it: More than in the NFL or NBA — everybody knows the New England Patriots and Golden State Warriors will be around at year’s end — the beginning of a new NASCAR season promises at least some optimism for everyone involved.

There are the favorites, of course, the Kyle Busches and Kevin Harvicks of the world, but look at last year. Did anyone expect Aric Almirola would finish the year fifth overall? Or how about Kurt Busch in seventh? Or on the other end of the spectrum, Jimmie Johnson in 14th?

Not hardly.

And while we’re in the business of measuring hope, it’s absolutely worth mentioning how 2019 specifically fits into that inexact equation.

The NASCAR that fans are going to see in 2019 may not look outwardly different than it has in past years... or it might. No one knows. The sanctioning body is implementing an entirely new rules package this year, designed to promote closer racing and passes for the lead by tweaking the cars’ aerodynamics. Which means about as much to you as it does to teams right now.

Not a darn thing.

It’ll take weeks — maybe months — for teams to figure out just how to tailor this new package to best fit their drivers. Which means lots of experimenting, trying new things... and for smaller or more frugal teams, time to find their edge.

This new rules package may end up back where we ended last year, with the same old names — Harvick, Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano — back in the championship race at Homestead. But, there’s also a chance it doesn’t.

There’s still hope now for everyone else.

Come Sunday, we’ll finally have something real to talk about. We’ll have crashes to dissect, passes to analyze, and a trophy to glare at when one driver hoists it in the air.

But the real prize — the gift of a new, hopeful season — belongs to all of us.

This week’s NASCAR race at Daytona: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash.

Distance: 75 laps, or 187.5 miles.

Where: Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile asphalt tri-oval in Daytona Beach, Florida.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

TV: FS1.

Radio: MRN.

Last year’s winner: Brad Keselowski.

Worth mentioning: Like NASCAR’s annual All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Clash doesn’t count as an official points race, instead rewarding the winner with a handsome cash purse.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @BrendanRMarks

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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