NASCAR’s Most-Anticipated Moment of 2013

Credit: Eldora Speedway

Credit: Eldora Speedway

HICKORY N.C. – With the annual appetizer known as the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction & Preview weekend now upon us we find ourselves a mere week week away from the appetizer that is the Sprint Unlimited and a mere Two Sunday’s away from the 55th incarnation of the “Great America Race”, the Daytona 500.

Almost all of the precursors have now come and went, events such as Gen6 testing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, tire testing at Darlington, to the 24 hour endurance challenge of the Rolex 24. Nonetheless, as most NASCAR fans will tell you, it does not really get “real” until engines fire just after noon on the 24th of February.

In the interim the numerous storylines looming for 2013 will have to do. The 2013 season promises to be a groundbreaking year for the sport of NASCAR. From the aforementioned Gen6 car which promises to put stockcars that once again showcase manufacturer specific identities back on the track, to the full-time Sprint Cup Series run by Danica Patrick who is attempting to not be outdone by her boyfriend, 2-time defending Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.  Stenhouse finds himself stepping up to run with the big boys in the vaunted Roush Fenway Racing #17.

This season will see transcendent sports mega-star Travis Pastrana opting to go all-in on 4-wheels as he challenges the rigors of 33 weeks of NASCAR Nationwide Series racing.

As strange as it may sound, and for the second consecutive season, the storyline that I find myself most anticipating resides within the confines of the Camping World Truck Series schedule. Last season that moment came in mid-April when racing returned to the Sandhills of North Carolina and put on a show 8+ years in the making.  That warm April day at Rockingham saw a jet-lagged Kasey Kahne surge from dead last on the starting grid to take the checkers in front of an enthusiastic and renewed crowd.

Fast forward to the season in directly front of us and I find myself already contemplating a Wednesday night in July, in New Weston, Ohio.  That evening will find the Camping World Truck Series taking to the dirt of Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway.  Last season it was the Rock, this year it is Eldora’s turn.  Quite possibly the powers that be at NASCAR Headquarters are leaving it in the hands of the Camping World Truck Series to reconnect the sport with the large legion of old-school fans that were lost in NASCAR’s hurry-up and go mainstream shuffle of the early 2000’s.

What’s next? Does the 2014 Camping World Truck Series schedule hold in the cards a late season return to the hallowed Holly Farms grounds of North Wilkesboro? Unfortunately this is probably not the case, but there is 18 months between here and there and a race fan can dream. If only Bruton Smith could do the same. But alas, let’s not get greedy and let’s graciously accept the gifts that NASCAR has given us and appreciate the racing those occasional gifts can provide.

The gift of a race at Rockingham last season left numerous Sprint Cup Series drivers hitting Twitterverse with words of praise for the job Andy Hillenburg had done, letting it be known they wished they had challenged the red-eye flight from Texas as Kasey Kahne did, in an attempt to win at the racy Rock. Many promised they would not make the same mistake twice.

Many promised that come this April they would be at the One mile and some change oval. Lets hope those Sprint Cup Series stars keep their word and maybe even a few more will decide to join them. The event at Rockingham is shaping up to only be better in year two and by 2014, just maybe, thoughts of a double-header NNS/CWTS weekend will be seriously contemplated.

The inaugural event at Rockingham set a very high bar but if anyone can put together a great short-track feature it is Tony Stewart, Roger Slack, and the fine staff they have assembled at Eldora.  The annual Prelude to the Dream has become one of short-track racing’s most fun evenings and I fully believe the intangibles created by the half-mile of Ohio dirt at Eldora will allow the same to be said on the morning of July 25th.

Most of the drivers in the Camping World Truck Series were not even alive when NASCAR last hit the dirt for a national event at the fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C. in 1970. Needless to say, testing will be as important as ever and track time will be at a premium.

I love the thought that a mid-week dirt track race could play a pivotal role in the determination of a series champion. I’m not sold on the fact that Ty Dillon, Matt Crafton, or Johnny Sauter feel the same but the TV cameras inevitably will undoubtedly show that the public is watching in large numbers.

The fans at Eldora will eat this one up, surely making this one of the most sought after tickets in Ohio sports history. I hope Smoke has plans to flood the track’s flank with as many temporary grandstands as possible, as the existing 16,000 seat capacity will almost certainly not be enough to handle the influx of anxious Ohioans.

Two weeks from this Sunday the longest season in professional sports will officially resume. I say resume simply because the NASCAR season never truly ends, or so it would seem. I know that I am ready to hear the yet-to-be announced actor/actress/musician/politician/reality star get things started with a hearty, “Gentleman, err, Drivers start your engines” but I’m even more excited to hear *most likely* a race sponsor executive, local community leader, or Miss Ohio, say the same thing five months later in the less glamorous locale of New Weston.

In that vain, allow me to offer a boisterous welcome to the schedule to Eldora Speedway, my most anticipated moment of the almost upon us 2013 NASCAR season.