WALTZ: With New Season Comes New Hope For Race Teams

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HARRISBURG, N.C. — With the dawn of a new racing season literally just days away, this is a unique week for the motorsports community as drivers, team owners and crew members across the country are overflowing with optimism.

From the massive, state-of-the-art race shops in suburban Charlotte, N.C., to the one-car garages behind racers’ homes in the snow-covered Upper Midwest; everyone is refreshed and ready to get back to business.

Many of the race cars are shiny and new, while others have been meticulously refurbished over the last three or four months. The old engines have either been carefully rebuilt or replaced by new ones in the never-ending quest for horsepower.

Each racer is confident 2011 is going to be his or her year. This is when they are going to break through, win some races and proudly claim that coveted championship trophy. That exact same sentiment reaches from the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to thousands of weekend warriors.

The confidence is so thick it can be cut it with a knife. Give the racer down the street a call, or stop by his or her shop, and you’ll instantly understand.

This is the week when optimism is at its peak in the motorsports community and everyone is convinced they can be both a winner and a champion.

For many, the optimism will continue for several more weeks until the green flag is waved in their part of the country. But for a majority of those towing to the Sunshine State to open their seasons, the optimism will soon be replaced by frustration and disappointment.

– Just like Punxsutawney Phil, former NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield came out of hibernation last week. Phil predicted only six more weeks of winter, but we’re predicting at least six more months of litigation in the battle between Mayfield and NASCAR.

– The World of Outlaws has very quietly bowed to pressure from its sprint-car teams and backed away from a plan to mandate 33-gallon fuel tanks. Sprint-car fans despise fuel stops, so it’s easy to see who won this round.

– Hard to believe three-time NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip celebrated his 64th birthday Saturday.

– We are beginning to think the wrong member of the France family is running NASCAR. Brian France and his sister, Lesa France-Kennedy, who leads International Speedway Corp., should trade places for a couple of years and see how that works.

– Two-time defending champion Tim Shaffer has a very good shot at leading the All Star Circuit of Champions point standings from start to finish. It appears the only thing that might derail the effort is if Shaffer and crew chief Brian Kemenah decide to skip some All Star events and chase more big-money races.

– The Toyota All-Star Showdown doesn’t receive nearly the recognition it deserves and that is due to extremely poor scheduling. Running this race on the same weekend as the Rolex 24 At Daytona is a terrible idea and starting it at a time when very few folks on the East Coast are awake to watch it live is even worse.

– NASCAR has a completely new point system so it’s easier for fans to understand. So let’s see, the No. 27 starts the season with the No. 71 owner points from last season; the No. 21 has the No. 19 owner points; and the No. 71 has the No. 98 owner points. How many fans are going to understand that?

– Great to see veteran sprint-car driver Danny Smith back behind the wheel after being forced to sit out the second half of 2010 due to a June 18 crash at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park that broke his back.

– We’re still trying to figure who is in the field for Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout and how they earned a spot, but we want to hear from you. News and notes reach us at [email protected]

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