A busy schedule lies ahead for NASCAR as the official countdown to the 2013 season rolls on.
The off-season has been nearly non-existent since the final checkered flag of 2012 flew in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Sprint Cup Series teams have been hard at work on the Gen-6 car that'll make its competitive debut during next month’s Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.
A December test at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be followed by this weekend’s Preseason Thunder session in Daytona, with a return trip to CMS on January 17-18 for additional evaluation of the new racecars.
"There's still work that we are doing. There are things we've discovered," said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton. "There are things we may implement before the start of the year to help the cars run in traffic, and not be in as much of a deficit when they're at the back of the pack. We're continuing to work on that and we won't quit."
NASCAR has also given teams extra testing opportunities once the season begins and the schedule moves to Phoenix, Las Vegas and California after the Daytona 500 on Feb. 24. The added time will hopefully expedite the learning curve for teams dialing in the new machines.
“I still think it’s going to take a while to fully understand what this car will do and how it will react to a variety of circumstances,” said Steve Letarte, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it took until Charlotte in May for everyone to really get a handle on things.”
Testing isn’t the only thing filling NASCAR's winter calendar. The annual Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway will bring more than 200 journalists from around the globe to the Queen City during the final full week of January. The annual event provides a sneak peek at the coming year with several news stories usually announced during the four-day tour.
And Charlotte is back in the spotlight February 8-10 for "NASCAR Acceleration Weekend." On Friday, Feb. 8, the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2013 will be formally inducted. Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood will be enshrined during what will certainly be a memorable night. Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage from uptown Charlotte with live streaming at MotorRacingNetwork.com.
"It's a good mix," NASCAR President Mike Helton said of this year's class of inductees. "It speaks to the beginning years of NASCAR with pioneers like Buck, Cotton and Herb that played such a big role in the early years; and then Leonard Wood ... and Rusty, a more recent champion with 55 wins who's not being inducted just for what he did on the track but also for what he still does off the racetrack. I think the whole class is a good representation of our sport's heritage."
On Saturday, Feb. 9, "NASCAR Preview 2013" will take place at the Hall of Fame. Fans can engage with their favorite drivers from all three national series, participate in autograph and Q&A sessions, and be among the first to see the new 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars and paint schemes up-close; with access to a host of other fan-friendly, interactive activities. Tickets are $20, available at www.NASCARAcceleration.com. More than 50 drivers are scheduled to take part.
The weekend wraps up on Sunday, Feb. 10, with the official opening of the Walk of Fame Garden and the Class of 2013 Hall of Honor exhibits.
Then - just five days later - “The World Center of Racing” opens its gates for Budweiser Speedweeks 2013 and a week-and-a-half of action that'll culminate with the 55th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 24.