The introduction of new rules for the 2014 NASCAR season means nothing without the drivers and teams who will have to comply with them.
Among those drivers are Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, two stars who missed extended time last season and as a result lost out on their championship prospects.
They enter this season with the expectation of running the full schedule.
Hamlin appears ready heading into Saturday night’s exhibition race, the Sprint Unlimited. The 33-year-old native from Virginia missed four races after he sustained a back injury from an on-course clash with Joey Logano. He never recovered in the standings and missed the Chase.
But a win in the season finale at Homestead created a bit of momentum for the number 11 team as they prepare for 2014.
He should make the Chase this year. He has the championship-winning crew chief Darian Grubb and talent to do it. He excels at most tracks and can easily win five-plus races any given season.
Stewart on the other hand, has more of challenge. He broke his leg in early August in a sprint car crash. Unable to drive, he missed 15 races.
His decision to compete in a racing series not as safe as NASCAR received mixed reaction from people. He co-owns the organization he races for and opposition to his dirt track endeavors believed that he was not taking his responsibility as an owner seriously.
Not only will Stewart have to deal with his return to the track, he will also have to be wise about how he spends time away from the series. Another unfortunate incident like last summer’s injury would not only keep Stewart off the track, but it would prevent a legitimate championship contender from giving six-time Chase winner Jimmie Johnson some more competition.
Stewart said that his injured leg is around 65 percent healed so everyone will see how he performs at practice Friday and at the Sprint Unlimited on Saturday.
If the injury bug stays away from these two, they could get the chance to experience the new Chase system that awaits all who make it.