First 2011 race set to kick off in Daytona with changes

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First 2011 race set to kick off in Daytona with changes

When the NASCAR Nationwide Series gets its 2011 season underway with the season-opening Drive4COPD 300 on Feb. 19 at Daytona International Speedway, the series will have somewhat of a new look to it in a handful of areas. Gone is the car of the...

When the NASCAR Nationwide Series gets its 2011 season underway with the season-opening Drive4COPD 300 on Feb. 19 at Daytona International Speedway, the series will have somewhat of a new look to it in a handful of areas.

Daytona, The World Center of Racing.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Gone is the car of the past, as the new Nationwide car -- after making appearances in four events last season -- goes full-time in 2011. As a result, gone are the Ford Fusion and Dodge Charger as they give way to the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger. They join the new look Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Camry to make up Nationwide Series race fields now.

With the new car also comes a new fuel. Gone is the unleaded gasoline of old after just a few years of use. Enter Sunoco's E15 Ethanol.

Gone are the days of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series regulars claiming the Nationwide Series championship trophy. NASCAR put its foot down when the 2011 NASCAR driver application was revised to include a section in which drivers planning to run in any three of NASCAR's three national series (Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup) are required to choose one series in which to accumulate points. And what full-time Sprint Cup Series driver is expected to choose the Nationwide Series title over the Sprint Cup?

Another change with championship implications is the new points system NASCAR unveiled during Sprint Media Week in and around Charlotte a week ago. The new 1-43 plus a few here and there points system is the first significant change to how drivers accumulate championship points since the now-Nationwide Series was born as the Busch Series back in 1982.

Brief overview of the new system:
- 43 base points for first and one point for 43rd and last finishing spot.
- three additional bonus points for race wins
- one bonus point for leading a lap
- another bonus point for leading the most laps

Nationwide and Cup driver Brad Keselowski celebrates with Roger Penske the 2010 Nationwide Championship..
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Translation: a win is actually worth at least 47 points (43 for first + 3 for win + 1 for leading at least the last lap) and is worth, at most, 48 (the above mentioned + 1 more if winner also leads the most laps).

The changes don't stop there. The way qualifying order is determined also changes. Instead of a blind draw like in years past, the Nationwide Series (along with the Sprint Cup Series) will adopt the procedure implemented in the Camping World Truck Series in 2010 -- slowest cars go out first and fastest make their runs last. All the locked-in cars still go first in a big group, though, being ordered from slowest to fastest. Then the go-or-go- homers go out, ordered in the same way.

At the start of most race seasons, the biggest adjustments are getting used to new faces in new places with different sponsors, numbers and paint schemes. It looks like that may be the least of the adjustments for fans heading into 2011. Buckle up buttercup, because the year of adjustments are about to get underway.

The green flag is scheduled to drop on the Drive4COPD 300 at 1:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, Feb. 19.

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