TAYLOR: 14 Burning Questions for 2014
With the December lull comes time to think and ponder the next racing season. By now all the drivers, teams and fans are more or less ready to get back to the track. Unfortunately any real action is still months away.
While the teams are busy prepping and building their race cars for next season and the drivers enjoy some downtime with their families, racing fans are bench racing and wondering what the next year will bring. Many questions arise across all racing series and these are the 14 burning questions in our mind for the 2014 season.
1. Can anyone stop Sebastian Vettel? The young, brash, donut spinning Red Bull F-1 driver stormed to his fourth-consecutive driver’s championship this year and made a mockery of the F-1 field. Under the genius of Christian Horner and designer Adrian Newey, Vettel has been an unstoppable force. 2014 provides others the opportunity to catch up as many rule changes take effect next year for the Formula One teams, most notably the change from the V8 to a turbo V6 engine. It remains to be seen if the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes can catch or even keep up with the Red Bull juggernaut.
2. Can anyone stop Jimmie Johnson? Now a six-time series champion after his 2013 title run, Johnson looks to equal NASCAR’s best in 2014 with a record tying seventh series championship. Johnson will no doubt go down as one of the best ever and the run he is on is staggering. Thanks to a superb ability to focus and a brilliant mind in Chad Knaus on the pit box, Johnson is always the man to beat. Who is going to step up in 2014 to battle Johnson? Joe Gibbs Racing and his fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammates look to be the best guesses at this point but Johnson is going to be the one to beat. Again.
3. How will United SportsCar change road racing? The new combined series for sports cars is coming in 2014. No longer are Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series against each other as the two have become one series. The racing aspect as well as car design and the overall impact of sports car racing’s health in general remain to be seen with this development. Hopefully the transition is a smooth and positive one as many fans welcome a unified series.
4. Will the legend of John Force continue? The old man proved he still had it in 2013, winning a record 16th NHRA Funny Car title. In his early 60’s Force enters 2014 searching for sponsorship as longtime partners Ford and Castrol are pulling out of the sport after next year. His reign as always will be tested by Don Schumacher Racing’s stable of drivers and his own team cars, driven by his daughter Courtney and son-in-law Robert Hight.
5. Kasey Kahne Racing versus Tony Stewart Racing – a dirt racing rivalry? The World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series saw a battle down to the wire last year as KKR newcomer Daryn Pittman shocked much of the dirt racing world by winning the series title over a dominant Donny Schatz. The main rivalry between these two top Outlaw teams is fun to watch and more than likely will be a story next year. If the title battle is as close as it was in 2013 the fans should be in for a treat.
6. Who will win NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year?-For the first time in forever we have been blessed with a strong rookie field entering the Cup Series this year. As veteran drivers fade away four talented newcomers look to battle all year for the rookie title. Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Michael Annett and (rumored) Justin Allgaier will all vie for the title in 2014. With Larson and Dillon both with top notch teams the battle should be fun to watch and also unpredictable as to who will capture the crown.
7. How will Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Riccardo Fare in top notch F-1 rides? Other than Sebastian Vettel, next year’s biggest story in Formula One might just be these two young guns. Magnussen was hired by McLaren to team with Jenson Button as the team unceremoniously kicked Sergio Perez to the curb. McLaren’s struggles last year were well documented, but if the team gives the young gun a car capable of competing it will be interesting to see what kind of fight he gives his more experienced teammate. Riccardo, for his part, will team with the champion Vettel on the sport’s best team, but he also knows he is the known number two driver. His role will be that of the one Felipe Massa played so well at Ferrari for years, but if Riccardo has the speed to challenge Vettel we could see some more Red Bull team drama, which is always fun.
8. How will Juan Pablo Montoya fare in IndyCar? – After 14 years Montoya returns to IndyCar after his Formula One and NASCAR stints. Driving for Roger Penske, Montoya is in the right equipment to contend and it will be interesting to see how quickly he re-adapts to open wheel racing. His teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power will no doubt be title contenders as the Penske team will look to overthrow their old rivals Ganassi and Scott Dixon for the 2014 crown.
9. Can Ford get back on track? The Ford Motor Company had a good year last year in racing, but their expectations are always higher, especially in NASCAR. 2014 marks the 10 year anniversary of their last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title and the well documented struggles of their top teams Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing last year raised some questions about Ford’s NASCAR program. The manufacturer will no doubt look to ride their top drivers Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski in the Sprint Cup Series and look for some big improvement.
10. Will Stewart-Haas Racing Combust? NASCAR’s most interesting lineup for 2014 is no doubt Stewart-Haas Racing, who, has paired Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart – who is returning from injury – together for 2014 along with media darling Danica Patrick. The attention on this team will be massive and it will probably be a miracle if the plethora of moves goes off without a hitch. Whether or not the team struggles or succeeds remains to be seen, but no doubt they’ll be fun to watch.
11. How will Kimi Raikkonen do in his Ferrari return? F-1’s biggest offseason move was no doubt Kimi Raikkonen returning to Ferrari to partner with Fernando Alonso. The pairing is unique since both are clear No. 1 drivers and the inter-team rivalry will be present. Ferrari and the Tifosi expect big things from the two big name talents, but the car must be faster to contend with the Red Bull. It will no doubt be an interesting year in Maranello.
12. Will the NASCAR Nationwide Series continue to be a joke? Among NASCAR fans the opinion on the Nationwide Series has been one of decline and one of boring races, mostly due to the fact a Sprint Cup driver with a Sprint Cup affiliated team wins most of the races. NASCAR is a free enterprise and anyone is free to compete, but with 2014 more than likely being another year dominated by Cup drivers the series more than likely will remain the least popular of the big three among fans.
13. A return to 1,320? Rumblings in the NHRA paddock have been that a return to an actual quarter mile is coming sooner rather than later. For the past few years since Scott Kalitta’s tragic death the NHRA has taken a proactive approach and raced to only the 1,000 foot mark in the nitro categories. Although it was a safety measure, the purists of drag racing and the drag racers themselves would love a return to the actual quarter mile. Whether or not this happens in 2014 is a question yet to be answered.
14. What will be the racing story of the year? We have plenty of candidates for this one. What if Vettel gets five, Johnson gets seven, or a rookie like a Magnussen or Larson becomes a bona-fide star? Could Danica Patrick shock the world and win a race or Courtney Force win the Funny Car title? All these are questions and stories that might or might not happen. For racing fans, 2014 can’t come soon enough.