NASCAR has one of the shortest offseasons in all of sports, but it’s long enough to make racing fans, including Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, bored.
So Gossage is excited that another racing season is upon us with one of the sport’s biggest races, the Daytona 500, kicking it off Sunday.
“I’m ready to get it all started up again,” Gossage said. “Everybody has a chance to win and everybody thinks it’s going to be their year to win it all. I can’t wait.”
TMS is hosting a Daytona 500 watch party Saturday and Sunday for the third consecutive year, and Gossage expects to have the best turnout yet (depending on the weather).
It’s a free event for fans to watch the races on the world’s largest HDTV, “Big Hoss,” as well as other entertainment options such as pace car rides and a cornhole tournament.
“We’ve got the world’s biggest TV, so why not put it to work?” Gossage said. “It’s been very popular and continues to grow.”
With that, Gossage and the Star-Telegram talked four turns – four of the biggest storylines going into the season.
Turn 1: Fading stars
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been the biggest name in the sport for years and this will be the first year since 1998 that he isn’t in the field.
That’s a blow to a sport that has seen some of the biggest names, such as Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, walk away in recent years. But Earnhardt’s replacement in the No. 88 Chevrolet, Alex Bowman, got off to a promising start and will be the pole sitter in Sunday’s race.
“We don’t want Junior to go away, but we’ll see him a lot [as an NBC broadcaster] and that’s a good thing,” Gossage said. “It was fun to see his racing career develop as he went from a shy, quiet guy who didn’t have anything to say to a guy who has something to say about everything.”
Like Earnhardt, another popular driver, Danica Patrick, is leaving NASCAR after running in Sunday’s Daytona 500. She’ll make one more run at the Indianapolis 500 before calling it a career for good.
“Danica has been one of the most important figures in our sport and not just because she gave girls and women someone to watch and follow,” Gossage said. “I think young people followed her and I hate that she’s moving.”
Unlike Earnhardt, Gossage doesn’t think Patrick will be too visible around the sport anymore.
“I think after Indy, we won’t see her around a race track ever again,” Gossage said. “I think she’s truly closed the door on that part of her life. I’ve become a fan of hers over time and I want nothing but good things for her. But, from what I’m seeing and hearing, I just don’t think she’ll come back.”
Turn 2: Youth movement
With staples such as Earnhardt and Patrick becoming the latest to hang it up, NASCAR is hopeful that young stars emerge and become fan favorites.
Chase Elliott continues to be a name consistently thrown around as a “rising star," but he has yet to find the winner’s circle in 77 career Cup races.
Kyle Larson is coming off a breakout season in which he won four races. Erik Jones is stepping into Matt Kenseth’s old ride at Joe Gibbs Racing, and William Byron is taking over the famed No. 24 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports.
As stated, Bowman is flashing promise by winning the pole.
“It’s going to be fascinating to watch and see how these young guys grow and mature,” Gossage said. “All of them have great potential, but the interesting thing to realize is that they’re all not going to make it in the long run. It’s easy to sit here and say, ‘Boy, these guys are all going to be superstars.’ But that’s not the case.”
Turn 3: Old movement?
For as much promise as the young drivers have, there are still a handful of drivers in the series who have been there and done that.
Jimmie Johnson headlines the staples of the series as he chases an eighth championship at age 42.
“I think Jimmie’s got a few years left, and I still don’t think we celebrate him enough,” Gossage said. “He’s taken for granted and not appreciated sufficiently. There ought to be a greater appreciation for what he does.”
Along with Johnson, drivers such as Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski are all former champions who are still in the primes of their careers.
Gossage predicts a second championship is in Kyle Busch’s future this season.
Turn 4: Monster movement
Monster Energy emerged as NASCAR’s sponsor for its top racing season just before last season, and is now in its second year of a two-year deal (with a two-year option for 2019 and 2020).
Gossage believes it’s too early to say whether this partnership is beneficial for each long-term, but likes the youthful demographic that Monster Energy targets.
“These things take a while to take root,” Gossage said. “They came on board just before the season last year, so I don’t think we saw what they’re fully capable of doing. Hopefully Monster will do some big things this year. If nothing else, just having the name on it is fabulous. That makes it cool for young folks.”
Gossage said the sport still throws the best parties and is the spot to be whenever the circuit is in town. Plus, Gossage said, the racing couldn’t be better.
“I don’t think the racing has ever been as good as it was last year,” Gossage said. “And there’s no question that the biggest party in sports is at a race. That’s still the case and that’s a good thing.”