Verdict still out NASCAR changes

Some racing observations from the Super Bowl of stock-car racing as the new NASCAR season roared into high gear at the Daytona 500.

n It’s going to take a while for announcers and the racing world to feel like the “Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series” rolls off the tongue.

It was the first real look at NASCAR’s new format for fans, which divides the race into three stages, awarding bonus points at the end of the each of the first two segments. The format was designed to make more laps count toward the points championship, thus creating more competition, and thus raising interest and excitement among fans throughout long race afternoons.

Some pundits, as well as drivers, credit the new format with the high crash count in Sunday’s race, knocking 15 of the 40 cars out of contention with as many as 50 laps to go. Mishaps swept up the likes of veterans like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Danika Patrick and Kyle Busch, among others.

n If NASCAR knows it needs to appeal to a new generation of race fans, then the system that sparks more three-wide racing may be the ticket.

But for drivers, the approval of the new high-pressure plan seems to depend upon which end of the crash they’re standing. For most, it will take a few more races to decide if they truly like, or hate the three-phase format.

n The growing number of legacy drivers will also factor into the future success of the sport.

It was fun to hear names like Elliott and Blaney running up front at Daytona, among the new generation of competitive clans racing against one another. And those weren’t the only family ties. Ty Dillon joined his brother, Austin in the Cup series this year, both are grandsons of legendary team owner Richard Childress; while Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and nephew of Dale Jr. made his Monster Series Cup debut at Daytona as well.

Some fun and friendly rivalries among these famous families, played out on the track as well as social media, could fuel more fan interest, especially among those desired demographics.

n Neilsen ratings reveal a 5-percent increase in viewership for this year’s Daytona 500 compared to last year.

While not a significant jump overall, viewership among men 18-34 increased by 10 percent while adults viewership, ages 18-34 was up 13 percent compared to last year’s opening race. Not a bad start on a season that the series needs to be transformative.

n It’s still strange to see the field go green without retired former champions Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon on the track, but good to see both hanging around. Gordon is an excellent addition to the broadcast team, offering insightful commentary on a sport he still clearly loves. And as team owner for Kurt Busch, it was pretty cool to see finally Tony Stewart in victory lane at Daytona.

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