Monday, February 24, 2014
2014 World of Outlaws Late Model Series Season Preview and Predictions
Yeah, I know, I'm writing a season preview after the season has begun. Shoot me if you will. Let me explain my reasoning for doing so, though. I don't consider the Florida Speedweeks shows to be regular season shows for the WoO, because the fields, particularly at Volusia, are far different than what you'll find during the season on tour. The results and points to this point are skewed because of it. Not to mention there's been teams that state they have intentions to run the tour, then have a crappy Speedweeks and decide against it. So I'm going off of information from press releases and websites and such, with liberal amounts of my opinion sprinkled in.
The 2014 season started off as a rather tumultuous one for the series. The upstart NDRL (which I'll be previewing later in the week, keep an eye out for it) scheduled on top of their biggest shows and took a couple drivers, Tim Fuller and Bub McCool. Word has come down that defending series champ and early favorite to repeat Josh Richards will not be on tour to start the season, and may not be around for quite a while due to an undisclosed illness. At this point, if/when he does return, he's probably going to be running an "outlaw" schedule.
All of that led to a lot of questions going into Florida.
Who would be running the series full time? Rookie of the Year contenders? Would the Rocket house car be on tour, a stalwart of the series from it's inception? Would it's biggest shows, the Firecracker 100 at Lernerville and USA Nationals at Cedar Lake have large fields with competition for cars now a thing?
So I figured I'd try to answer those questions. I'm still not sure, but based I'll go with what I've seen.
Who will be running the series full time?
It really isn't any different from the last few years, minus Richards (due to illness), Fuller and McCool of course. Richards is a huge loss. Considering Fuller finished 7th in points last year and McCool finished 10th, I don't think their loss matters very much to the series as a whole, expect for maybe the annual western swing, where the fields aren't always the deepest and for some reason Fuller is always at his strongest.
There is a rumor that Brady Smith is looking to follow the WoO again (he followed the tour in 2009) after having an especially strong Florida. But he's said that hinges on crew help and sponsorship. I guess we'll see how it goes.
Rookie of the year contenders?
So far, Chase Jughans is for sure. Brandon Sheppard is a maybe (more on that in a the next paragraph). Apparently Boom Briggs and Frankie Heckenast Jr. are both considering a run at RoY, but they've both said that before. I'll believe either of them will actually do it when I see it.
Will the Rocket house car be on tour in 2014?
It remains to be seen. Mark Richards put Brandon Sheppard in the car for Florida with Josh Richards' absence. Brandon produced, and now sits second in current points. Apparently it was said in Florida that if Brandon was sitting pretty in points coming out of speedweeks that he'd be kept in the house car. He's obviously sitting pretty. I guess we'll see if Mark Richards is a man of his word. If Brandon does run the WoO, they might as well write the Rookie of the Year check out to him now. Also, if Brandon does run the WoO, does that mean there will be twin house cars on tour when Josh does come back? That all remains to be seen.
Will the Firecracker 100 and USA Nationals have big fields?
It all depends on how you define "big". I'll bet the fields for these races are about he same as they've been the past few years. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the fields actually increase for both these races as more regional guys show up at them, due to the purported "weakening' of the WoO.
Overall, I expect the WoO to end up being fine this year. Maybe a little lean compared to the last few seasons, but not by a whole lot. I think that it'll be more interesting than the past few years as the season wears on. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the WoO make a few changes for 2015 as an answer to the competition from the NDRL. A tightening of the schedule and a couple more higher paying races would make absolute sense and help them regain the loss they've had in market share.