Published 12:00 am Friday, January 5, 2007

Happy New Year!

After taking a few weeks off, I am fired up and ready to talk about the 2007 NASCAR season, one in which some big stories will be played out and many questions answered.

With testing slated to start soon and the beginning of Daytona Speed Weeks only five short weeks away, I thought it would be fun to look at what I think will be the top stories and things to watch for in the 2007 season.

The biggest noticeable change to any NASCAR fan, and all the drivers, will be the introduction of the Car Of Tomorrow. This will be the most radical change to the actual racecar in the history of NASCAR.

With a wing instead of a spoiler, two inches taller, and four inches wider, the car is significantly different in appearance and performance. Safety concerns is the driving force behind the introduction of the car. Driver skill and strategy will be more important now than in a long time. This car depends less on aerodynamics and engineering and more on skill and horsepower.

The COT will be entered into 16 races next season and will be phased into all the races by the 2009 season. The COT will appear at all of the short tracks races, both road course races, Darlington, and the fall Talladega race. With this car, racers will determine the outcome of races instead of engineers. I am looking forward to that.

The next big story to watch for is the introduction of Toyota to cup racing. During this initial season for Toyota, seven teams will take to the track.

Since Toyota announced plans last spring to enter the world of cup racing, there have been all sorts of moaning about how the sport would change because of Toyota’s deep pockets and their willingness to spend what is in those pockets.

I don’t buy it. Increased competition—and Toyota will prove to be formidable competition, in time—will only make the domestic carmakers better. Toyota has made a splash, but don’t expect trips to victory lane immediately. Don’t be mistaken, success will come — Toyota has hired too many good people and has spent too much money to not be successful.

The addition of these seven Toyota teams to the mix bumps the total to 51 full time teams that will show up every week and attempt to make the race. Throw in the five or six part-time teams attempting races on a more sporadic basis and some heavily funded, good teams will be going home more often this year.

With only 43 starting spots available and only the top 35 guaranteed to start the race, some top name drivers will be watching from home.

Changes to the current points system and the Chase for the Championship look to be inevitable. Look for an announcement in January dealing with the 2007 points system. Word is that race winners will earn more points and the chase field will be expanded.

Finally, one change that I am definitely looking forward to is the return of ESPN/ABC to the sport. During the off-season, NASCAR Chairman Brian France commented that NASCAR was being “under covered” in the past.

Look for that to change in a big way. You will have access to much more NASCAR programming on ESPN’s plethora of stations.

ESPN/ABC will cover the entire Busch series and will pick up cup coverage with the race in Indianapolis in August. Speaking of the Busch series, 2007 will be the final year that Busch beer will sponsor that circuit. A new title sponsor should be named by the summer.