With Speed Week fast approaching, one of the biggest questions may be how Karma will look upon NASCAR at Daytona. You see, the last couple of months have not been kind to the Premier series as
-Long time series sponsor Sprint exits stage left, replaced by Monster Energy who got the series sponsorship at a fraction of the cost Sprint paid
-Attendance and viewership continues to decline
-Wall Street projections are not encouraging
-Car counts are down and major teams have downsized and have leased charters
-Concerns with the "product" as aero-dependency is still an issue with the cars
-Continuation of the Chase under the alias of Playoffs
-New Enhanced Race Format which divides the race into segments and awards points to segment winners and finishers to incentivize drivers to race harder and make every lap matter.
-New Damage Repair Rule that negates all incentives to race hard
-Tony Stewart (49 wins, 3 Cup championships) retired, Carl Edwards (28 wins) abruptly vacated his seat, Greg Biffle (19 wins) who finds himself without a ride will no longer be on the track. Add to that Jeff Gordon's (93 wins, 4 championships) return to the booth after filling in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. last season. That's 189 wins and 7 championships now absent.
-Two weeks ago the NFL had a record breaking Super Bowl with the New England Patriots winning their fifth in the Super Bowl's first Overtime game.
-FOX's "Daytona Days" promotions transitioning from the Super Bowl to the race receives lukewarm reception by the Super Bowl TV viewers.
In all, hardly the way one would like to see the 2017 season begin. Some would say NASCAR could use Karma's smile.
Looking back at NASCAR history though, Karma has a way of stepping in and smiling on NASCAR, usually at the Daytona 500 Pole.
In 1993, the sport was still reeling from the tragic losses of Davey Allison and 1992 Cup Champion, Alan Kulwicki in separate aviation accidents. Also lost in the Kulwicki crash were three employees of Kulwicki's sponsor, Hooters of America, Inc.-Mark Brooks, Dan Duncan and Charlie Campbell. Tragedy continued as the 1994 Speed Weeks opened with the losses of veteran driver Neil Bonnett and Cup rookie Rodney Orr in separate practice accidents.
However when qualifying ended, it was rookie, Loy Allen Jr. in the No. 19 Hooters Ford who clocked the fastest time and started the Daytona 500 from the pole.
Karma? Some would say that it was.
Allen wasn't a one-hit wonder though, as he went on to score two more poles that season - Atlanta (site of Kulwicki's 1992 Championship and home track for Atlanta-based Hooters) and Michigan (home track for Ford). Those would be the only poles he would win in his short Cup career.
Some would say that Karma smiled again in 2013 as Cup rookie, Danica Patrick landed her first and only pole (so far) at the 500, making her the first female driver to win the pole at Daytona.
2014 saw the return of the #3 to the Cup Series for the first time since the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt there thirteen years earlier. When qualifications ended Austin Dillon in only his 12th Cup attempt started his first full season in the Premier series by putting the #3 on the pole. It was the first pole for the #3 since 1996. It would be another two years before Dillon would score his next pole. Was it Karma?
At the end of 2014, then 92-win and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon announced 2015 would be his final season in Cup. As Karma would have it, he started his final year off by putting his No. 24 on the pole for the Great American Race. It would be his first Daytona 500 pole since 1999 and the first of four poles in his final full season.
2016 saw Karma smile down once again as rookie Cup driver, Chase Elliott hopped into the seat vacated by Jeff Gordon and put the No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole for a second straight year. It was Elliott's first career pole in six Cup starts. The son of four-time Daytona 500 pole winner Bill Elliott would go on to get his second pole later at Talladega.
Will Karma smile down this year? If it does, will it be on Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his return to Cup? Will it be 2016 Xfinity Champ and Cup rookie Daniel Suarez in his first ride in the No. 19, formerly driven by Carl Edwards? Can Clint Bowyer put his new ride, the No. 14 formerly driven by Tony Stewart on the pole? Will Mike Waltrip close out his Daytona 500 career with his first pole in ten years and his first ever Daytona pole? Or will it be someone totally different?
The 2017 season is off to a less than ideal start and whether Karma smiles down on NASCAR or not, on February 16th at 5:00 pm the engines of the Cup cars will fire up for the first practice. At that moment all concerns mentioned above will be drowned out by their roar.
As the Cup cars take the track for the first time, qualifying for the 2017 Daytona 500 pole will be forty-six hours, ten minutes away. And Karma... will she smile?
We will know soon enough.