NASCAR’s so-called off-season, perhaps the shortest in all of professional sports, reaches an unofficial end with the dawn of the new year.
Teams, drivers and officials are embarking on a very busy January as the sport and its many arms prepare for two weeks of racing at Daytona International Speedway and the long season beyond.
Mechanics, fabricators and engine builders are busy completing work on the new 2013 model cars that will undergo three critical days of pre-Daytona 500 testing Jan. 10-12 at DIS. The 2.5-mile track will be open for seven hours each of the three days for testing of the “Generation Six” race cars, designed to be much more like their street brethren than the previous “Car of Tomorrow” model.
With new designs and templates, the new car’s attitude in the draft at Daytona remains something of a mystery, and drivers will run tests both in single-car and drafting style as teams gather data about new setups.
A second round of tests for the new car is scheduled Jan. 17-18 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
On Jan. 19, the sport will pause to honor three of its major contributors. The late Pocono Raceway chairman Joe Mattioli, the late NASCAR official Jim Hunter and motorsports television veteran Ken Squier are scheduled to be inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Charlotte, N.C.
The NMPA is made up of writers, broadcasters and photographers who cover auto racing. Its Hall of Fame is located at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.
Media attention on the new season will heat up considerably Jan. 21-24 as hundreds of journalists gather in Charlotte for the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Sprint Media Tour.
The tour, hosted by CMS for three decades, features visits to team shops and interview sessions with many of NASCAR’s top players.
Much of the focus of preseason attention will be on the new Sprint Cup car. Among the changes: The driver’s last name will be on the windshield. Car numbers will be moved from the headlights and taillights to the front and rear bumpers. A single sponsor logo will be permitted on the roof under the car number. Due to the slightly smaller car, the car number will be reduced by 10 percent, and the contingency decals will be reduced to an area of 26 square inches.
Before teams head to Daytona Beach for Speedweeks (the Daytona 500 is Feb. 24), fans can get a look at the new cars in race trim at the NASCAR Preview Feb. 9 in Charlotte. The Preview is part of NASCAR Acceleration Weekend, which also will feature the induction of the newest members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in a Feb. 8 ceremony in Charlotte. Scheduled for induction are Rusty Wallace, Leonard Wood and the late Cotton Owens, Buck Baker and Herb Thomas.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.