Sonoma: a new face in the chase, for 2014? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
As stock car teams, weary from Sunday's rain-marred marathon day-and-night at Chicagoland, head out toward New Hampshire and Round Two of the Sprint Cup playoffs, NASCAR officials continue pounding hard on those yellow legal pads, pondering yet more options.
After one of the most momentous, and controversial, weeks in this sport's long history, the game plan has to be not only to fix some of those Richmond 'mistakes' -- like a new restart rule, allowing the second-place runner to beat the leader to the line, as long as the leader has hit the gas to restart -- but to move things on down the line and put all that mess in the rear view.
And it looks like revamping the 2014 Cup schedule, a few weeks overdue, remains a curiously on-going project, still a couple of weeks from completion.
The 2014 Sprint Cup schedule is being debated behind closed doors, and some quite interesting twists appear on the table at the moment.
Just a few weeks ago it looked like NASCAR didn't plan any major, or even minor, changes for 2014.
Now, however, word is things have, for some reason, changed.
The view from Phoenix' Rattlesnake Hill. Might this be the finale for NASCAR's 2014 chase? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
What NASCAR eventually does with next year's Cup calendar seems up for review, with few sacred cows. Don't make any hotel reservations, but here are some possible moves:
-- Homestead might lose its spot as the season finale;
-- Phoenix might gain the final spot on the 2014 tour;
-- Sonoma could earn a spot in the playoffs, adding a California stop to the chase;
-- Road America, that picturesque road course at Elkhart Lake, Wis., an hour north of Milwaukee, could get a slot in the 2014 Cup schedule (even though NASCAR's Brian France earlier this year said he planned no new tracks on the tour next season);
-- how to fit a new track in the schedule? Dover could lose its late spring Cup weekend (keeping its early fall Cup date, in the chase), track boss Denis McGlynn, not unaccustomed to such speculation, would surely fight hard to keep both;
-- and -- hold your horses -- Darlington might even get its traditional Labor Day weekend Southern 500 back;
-- to fill that Mother's Day Saturday night slot, maybe a swap with Atlanta;
Wonder if there's even more potential horse-trading going on behind the scenes?
How might all this affect the balance between the France family tracks and the Bruton Smith tracks?
And what might NASCAR's TV partners be saying about any such moves?
What might fans be thinking?
Of course after all this debate NASCAR might simply decide not to make any changes for 2014.
Brad Keselowski leads a NASCAR Nationwide pack around Wisconsin's Road America. Might this picturesque track just north of Milwaukee be an addition to the 2014 Sprint Cup schedule? If so, would NASCAR be expanding to 37 tour weekends, or cutting someone? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
A possible 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Tour
Feb 15 Daytona Shootout (N)
Feb 23 Daytona (confirmed)
March 2 Homestead (instead of Phoenix?)
March 9 Las Vegas (confirmed)
March 16 Bristol
March 23 Phoenix (moving?)
March 30 California (moving?)
April 6 Martinsville
April 13 Texas
April 20 Easter
April 26 Richmond (N)
May 4 Talladega
May 10 Atlanta (N) (swapping with Darlington?)
May 17 Charlotte All-Star (N)
May 25 Charlotte
June 1 Kansas (moving?)
June 8 Pocono
June 15 Michigan
June 22 Road America (new, with Sonoma moving?)
June 28 Kentucky (N)
July 5 Daytona (N)
July 13 New Hampshire
July 20 Off
July 27 Indianapolis
Aug 3 Pocono
Aug 10 Watkins Glen
Aug 17 Michigan
Aug 23 Bristol (N)
Aug 31 Darlington (N) (moving?)
Sept 6 Richmond (N)
Sept 14 Chicagoland
Sept 21 New Hampshire
Sept 28 Dover
Oct 5 Kansas
Oct 11 Charlotte (N)
Oct 19 Talladega
Oct 26 Martinsville
Nov 2 Texas
Nov 9 Sonoma (moving?)
Nov 16 Phoenix (moving?)
Nov 27 Thanksgiving
* rumored possible changes highlighted in bold
Gosh, lights and steps? Phoenix' Rattlesnake Hill is getting downright civilized (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Meanwhile that anticipated Juan Pablo Montoya move to Barney Visser's team, replacing Kurt Busch, could be unraveling.
Jeff Burton is now reportedly the leading candidate there.
Visser's team has been part of the Richard Childress Chevrolet camp, and Burton and Childress, in an unexpected and still not well explained move, just announced they'd be splitting up at the end of the season after nearly 10 years together.
Burton at Visser's would pair Burton again with veteran crew chief Todd Berrier.
Kurt Busch! Riding high as the chase opens. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Busch and Berrier, of course, have a lot on the plate at the moment, having made the chase. Busch, though leaving at the end of the year, showed again he's no lame duck -- overcoming a pit road speeding penalty and a flat tire, plus five hours of rain, to finish fourth in Sunday's Chicago 400.
Busch is the first driver on a single-car team to make the chase, now in its 10th season.
With that third straight top-5, Busch and Berrier have moved up to sixth in the standings. Over the last seven races Busch has finished top-10 seven times...though still winless.
It was Busch's best run at the 1-1/2-mile track near Chicago. And it wasn't easy -- that speeding penalty knocked him a lap down.
"My green light was on all the way down pit road... not sure what happened," Busch said. "It was costly, and it didn't look good."
A good call by Berrier got Busch back on the lead lap.
Then he got a lucky break when a tire went down just before a routine pit stop on lap 220 of the 267-lapper.
Still, Busch and Berrier will need more speed over the next nine races if they expect to challenge for the title. Busch says they're looking: "We’re like Indiana Jones, we’re not going to be satisfied until we find the Holy Grail."
Jeff Burton (L) and crew chief Todd Berrier: soon to be together again? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)