What's new in NASCAR this year? Here are three key changes
1 The Daytona Repave
After the pothole debacle at last year's Great American Race—the 500 was delayed more than two hours to repair a hole in Turn 2—Daytona officials spent $20 million to tear up their 32-year-old racing surface and repave the 2.5-mile oval with 50,000 tons of asphalt. The track is now as smooth as any on the Sprint Cup circuit, which means speeds will be up and there will be more than the usual two preferred lanes of drafting. "The track has so much grip that there's no telling what people will try," says Carl Edwards. "The last lap is going to be insane."
2 The Change in the Chase
Winning will matter more this year than it did in 2010—at least for some drivers. The top 10 in the points standings after 26 races will advance to the Chase. Then the two drivers outside the top 10—but inside the top 20—with the most victories will be added to the 10-race playoff as wild-card entries. This means that if a driver gets off to a slow start, he can still race his way into relevancy. (Jamie McMurray, who won his second race of 2010 at Indy on July 25, would have made the Chase under this rule.)
3 The Nationwide Makeover
Cup drivers have won the last five Nationwide championships, making the series little more than a playground where the bullies rule. Not anymore. This year drivers may compete for a title in only one series, a rule change that should deter Cup drivers from running full Nationwide schedules. (Cup drivers will still be allowed to race for victories on NASCAR'S junior circuit.) At last, the Nationwide Series has a chance to be what it should have been all along: a proving ground for young talent.