The big question coming into last week’s Bud Shootout was how all the changes to the track and the cars would affect the racing.
Between speeds of up to 206 mph and a new form of super speedway racing where two-car tandems go bumper to bumper, rather than the traditional freight train of several cars linked, it’s fair to say the new changes are for the better as we head into this week’s events that culminate with Sunday’s 53rd Daytona 500.
NASCAR has been searching for the missing answer of how to get television ratings on the rise again and have implemented all kinds of rules the last few years – some that have even cancelled out initial changes – and by pure chance – something not of their intention – this tag-team restrictor-plate driving falls into their laps.
Who doesn’t love speeds over 200 mph with RPM’s hitting at over 9,700? While plate racing has always been enjoyable, this new style – where two cars are much faster together than three or four packed together – is a refreshing and pleasant change from what we’re accustomed to watching.
Even though the individual car performance is diluted somewhat because of needing another to go faster, the top plate teams from the past year are still forces to reckon with. Teams like Childress, Hendrick, Gibbs and Ganassi all figure to be major players Sunday.
But their final results now depend on who they team up with and how well they work together during the race. During the Bud Shootout, Jeff Burton led the most laps with Kevin Harvick as his trailer, pushing Burton.
They had the luxury of talking to each other during the race because they are on the same Childress team and it showed in the way the two of them worked together in and out of each turn – flawlessness getting maximum speed with no air resistance.
Other hook-ups weren’t as clean with the pusher having trouble guessing where his leader was going, which broke their stock car caravan and slowed their speeds by up to 20 mph.
Teammates will surely be seeking each other out, but it’s likely most drivers will have to take whoever is available at the moment, even if it means partnering up with Dodge driver Kurt Busch as Jamie McMurray was forced to do Saturday night.
The position all drivers hope to be in for the final lap is the pusher because once they pull away for a slingshot move, their lead partner’s speed dies almost as if the engine has been turned off. The only recourse a driver who is leading has is to block, which is likely to cause a severe car flipping accident.
In Saturday’s race we saw two sets of drivers near the finish line with Denny Hamlin trying to make the winning pass. But he went below the yellow line to avoid the possible wreck, which in turn black flagged him.
With the Daytona 500 on the line and the lead driver expecting the slingshot, you can bet he’ll do anything possible to secure the win, even if that means knocking his temporary teammate – the one who pushed him to be in that situation – out of the way.
It’s not a new twist to restrictor-plate racing, but requiring two cars to achieve the speeds needed to get to the finish line first is what makes this a very intriguing Daytona 500, perhaps one of the most anticipated in the last few decades.
The only thing that could possibly ruin this different type of racing at Daytona is NASCAR, which has until Wednesday to make a decision on whether or not to use a smaller restrictor-plate to slow the cars down.
NASCAR has been all about safety of the fans and drivers the last decade, following Dale Earnhardt’s death 10 years ago in the Daytona 500. But the buzz created from the speeds and new type of racing may force them to delay drastic changes until Talladega in April.
When looking to bet this week, you can take a list of all the drivers from the top teams, throw in a couple more randomly, until you have about 28 drivers, and then start throwing darts. Seriously, I mean it! There is no real method to picking the winner in this week’s race, as opposed to the 32 other races on non-restrictor plate tracks.
My advise is to take a shot on a few drivers at 20-1 or higher like Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr, Brian Vickers, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Jeff Burton.
I think the class of the plate cars are the Childress drivers, who won three of the plate races last year. But it’s anybody’s ball game, as we saw Saturday with Kurt Busch winning the Bud Shootout. Busch, who doesn’t have many friends on the track to begin with, was the only Dodge in the field, and pulled out the victory despite all the reasons he had going against him.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fastest during pole qualifying last Sunday and will head the field for Sunday’s opening lap. Enjoy the race!