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DAYTONA COUNTDOWN: For Brad Keselowski, change is definitely for the better
After last year's post-championship swoon, Keselowski believes the sweeping modifications NASCAR has made to its Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format, its deterrence policy toward rules infractions and its new group qualifying system all will benefit his efforts to win a second title in NASCAR's premier series.
Enhanced transparency of NASCAR's penalty and appeals process -- with violations and their punishments spelled out in the rule book in a six-level system -- drew rave reviews from the 2012 champion, whose 2013 season was derailed last April at Texas when the rear-end housings of both Team Penske NASCAR Sprint Cup cars were deemed illegal.
Keselowski views the new approach to enforcement of competition rules as one of the most significant modifications in a rapidly changing landscape.
"I think it's huge," Keselowski told reporters Thursday during Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. "I think it's the most under-reported thing you're talking about. It completely changes the game, because we have this balance in this sport between fair play and innovation, and it's a constant battle as to what teams are fast each and every week.
"Fair play and innovation are two distinct differences, and that essentially comes down to the gray areas of the rule book and how they're defined. That's being re-defined with this literature and this process. I think it's tremendous for the teams and tremendous for the fans… If it's fully executed, it could really reset the field and the balance of who is fast week-in and week-out and change it from maybe the arbitrary system that it was in the past to a real balanced field."
The crime-and-punishment aspect of the rule book isn't the only thing Keselowski likes.
"I think almost every one of the changes has benefitted my team as a whole and is part of the reason for the optimism -- maybe with the exception of the added spoiler to the back of the car," Keselowski said. "That's probably the only change of anything that's been done, and there have been a lot of them, that I didn't like.
"So I think if you want an explanation as to how I think, we'd be here for a long time, but I think all the changes are beneficial for us. The Chase changes, I think, fit my driving style the best. The qualifying changes definitely fit me very well, so I think all of them are really positive for our team."
A few small tweaks, introduced by NASCAR during Media Day at Daytona, should spice up qualifying in the top three touring series this year.
Based on feedback from race teams, NASCAR will allow adjustments during time trial sessions as well as during breaks between the sessions, NASCAR Vice President of Competition and Racing Development Robin Pemberton announced Thursday.
"Starting in Phoenix (the first NASCAR Sprint Cup event using a new group qualifying format), the teams will be able to adjust during their qualifying rounds and in the breaks of their qualifying rounds," Pemberton said.
"If it's during the round when the track is hot (active), there will be one crew member over the wall that must wear a helmet, and he can perform the adjustments which are tape, tire pressures and wedge (as well as track bar). And then, during the breaks, it will be three crew members when the track is cold, and they'll go over to perform those duties."
NASCAR also grouped the five road courses collectively used in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with the tracks shorter than 1.25 miles for qualifying purposes. Time trials at those venues start with a 30-minute session that narrows the field to the fastest 12 cars and sets positions 13-43, followed by a 10-minute session that determines the starting order of the top 12.
"Through feedback, they felt like the second or last round needed to be a little bit longer (at road courses) to get multiple laps in on the track, so this should optimize their track time," Pemberton said.
At tracks measuring 1.25 miles and longer, three sessions will determine the starting order. The first, 25 minutes long, will winnow the field to the 24 fastest and set positions 25-43. After the second session (10 minutes), the top 12 will advance to a final five-minute session to crown the pole winner and complete the starting order.
The Daytona 500 will use its traditional single-car format to determine the front row and Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying races to set the starting order of the next 30 cars. Pemberton said adjustments will not be allowed during qualifying sessions at subsequent races at Daytona and Talladega because of the efficacy of the draft at those restrictor-plate venues.
The NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping Word Truck Series will use the new format during Speedweeks at Daytona.
Odds and ends from Daytona Media Day:
· Greg Biffle's contract with Roush Fenway Racing is up this year, but the driver of the No. 16 Ford says he started negotiations on an extension last season and fully expects to be back with the organization next year.
· Goodyear debuted its multi-zone tread technology on racing tires last year at Kansas and Atlanta. The tire maker also plans to run multi-zone right-side tires -- which feature a softer tread compound on the inner two-thirds of the tire and a harder, more heat-resistant compound on the outer shoulder -- at Texas and Richmond this season, with expansion to additional tracks a possibility.
· From six-time champion Jimmie Johnson's point of view, changes in the way the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is determined won't alter his approach -- even with race winners all but assured of a Chase spot and four drivers eliminated after every three races in the Chase. "I still think the way you win a championship is the same," Johnson said. "You've got to win races."
· Asked whether the reappearance of his late father's car number, driven by Austin Dillon, might cost him some fans, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a ready answer. "I'm not over here counting my fans like poker chips," Earnhardt said. "If they want to pull for the '3,' by all means, pull for the '3.'"