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Junior holds court, and you'd better believe NASCAR is listening: What to do about Daytona and Talladega?

Two big NASCAR stories this week: Trevor Bayne (L) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   It was a day of the Big Chill, a very cold, drizzling rain that idled NASCAR stockers most of Friday at Martinsville Speedway.
   But not the drivers.
   They were all in high gear talking with journalists here.

   Maybe it was the rain, or maybe it's just the season is finally winding down and the championship is almost decided, or maybe it's just the season is finally winding down and nearly over, thankfully, but NASCAR drivers here are in a remarkably folksy, laid-back mood.
   Yes, Jimmie Johnson was still a bit defensive and testy about being on the defensive following crew chief Chad Knaus' cryptic pre-race comments Sunday at Talladega. But he didn't shy away from the debate…even though his title hopes are all but over, with four races still to run.
   Brad Keselowski, the wild card in this championship chase, was is great form too, laying out what he conceded are the 'ethical questions' hanging over this sport after the Talladega 500 and all those political games.
   Even Tony Stewart was in rare form, presenting an articulate and well-mannered take on Talladega politics, a presentation which had the usually skeptical NASCAR press gushing about a day of Good Tony at the track.
   And especially noteworthy -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
   Stewart's title hopes are still alive – he's 19 points behind tour leader Carl Edwards with four to go. That's about 19 finishing positions….or the difference between winning and finishing 16th or so.
   Keselowski is in the thick of it too, somewhat remarkably, just 18 points down.

NASCAR's good luck with weather ran out Friday at Martinsville Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  Edwards himself seemed a bit more fretful than usual….and Stewart for one says the pressure really is on Edwards now not to throw this championship opportunity away….like Denny Hamlin did in the final days of 2010.  (Edwards even showed some testiness toward some in the media, for some reason.)
   But Earnhardt, even though he is far out of title contention now, and looking ahead – like most of these guys – to next season, was in one of his highly enjoyable, convivial moods.
   The scene -- at this moment, just days after the Talladega 500, and all those shenanigans, and with the Daytona 500 looming not so far away, many drivers are changing focus.
   The race favorites are Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin, all out of the title chase.
   And the men still in the title hunt, particularly Edwards and Kenseth, don't do particularly well here.
   So there are decidedly different agendas at play this weekend.

Title contenders: Brad Keselowski (L) is still in the chase; Jeff Gordon (R) is out of it (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  For Earnhardt….it's two-fold:
   Earnhardt nearly won here in the spring, and he's still second-guessing how he lost to Kevin Harvick. And Earnhardt did do the tire test here (a new right-side, from Watkins Glen).
   And, remember when Earnhardt took the lead last Sunday at Talladega the crowd went wild.
   Yes, Earnhardt still matters…..even if he hasn't won a tour race in a while.
   And when it comes to assessing the Talladega 500, and all the ethical issues that arose, and all the controversies, and most pointedly that two-car drafting thing, Earnhardt here Friday, during a long rain delay at Martinsville Speedway, was in great form.
   Now Earnhardt's strategy last weekend – running in the back, trying to avoid the big one – didn't quite pan out. And he has been vocal all season about how he doesn't care for this two-car drafting stuff.
   Once again Earnhardt is suggesting just what he suggested much earlier this year, that NASCAR hold a major testing session at either Daytona or Talladega, to try out various aerodynamic ideas, to make for  better racing in the Daytona 500.
    "Now that the 'new' has worn off the two-car draft (at Daytona and Talladega)," Earnhard began, "we need to go test.
    "We need to take a lot of race cars out there and test a lot of things…and get creative and try a bunch of idea, with a lot of race cars, and really go thoroughly through it.
   "We have three days (in mid-January) testing in Daytona….and to be honest, you don't really do a lot when you test at Daytona. You fill those three days with gimmicks and carry-ons. But you don't really find things that bring a lot of speed.
   "There's a rules package (spring and shocks) in the back of the car (so nothing to play with there). And you've got such stringent guidelines on the bodies.
    "So there's not of things to do over three days. Really, you're just burning fuel and wasting a lot of time.
   "And when we go to Talladega, you put the car together, unload it, and make a couple laps to make sure nothing falls off…and you're ready to race.
   "So there's not that much to it. And we could take those three days (at Daytona next January) and test.
   "Or we could just line up another test, with 15 cars or so, at either Talladega or Daytona. I think what works at one track would work at the other. And try smaller spoilers….
   "I think the rear spoiler is way too big. I look at it and can't imagine there was a whole lot of study that went into the size of it and how effective it would be. It's just a big hunk of steel, as wide as it can possibly be. And pretty tall.
   "They can make the spoiler narrower, and smaller, and run some softer springs in the back to get the car lower.
   "They have to make the hole these cars punch in the air much smaller. That hole right now is so giant, that it's easy for another car to stick up in there in that void and push all the way around the track.
   "They need to make that hole in the air smaller…and put more air on the second (trailing) car's windshield.
   "If you look back at the spoiler we all ran back in 2004…..or even smaller.
   "We've detuned these cars so they run very slow. We're qualifying at 181 mph and drafting at nearly 200. Even when we were qualifying above 190, we were only drafting at around the same speeds.
   "The tracks now have a lot of grip, so you could take a lot of spoiler off the rear of the cars.
    "And hopefully fuel injection (which will be used in conjunction with plates at Daytona and Talladega next year) will throw some curveballs in there, in a positive direction. That could change the way the cars work in the draft.
   "The biggest thing is the spoiler now is so big.
   "If we make the spoiler smaller, that will create something of a beachball effect behind the car….so when you drive up toward the guy, the air kind of pushes you away.
    "If they do that, and put a little more response in the engine and let us qualify faster…..that would help."



Remember the finish here in the spring: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (L) was on his way to victory, until he opened the door for Kevin Harvick (R) in the final miles (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




   Jeff Gordon says he can sympathize with Trevor Bayne's predicament at Talladega late in Sunday's 500.
   Bayne had agreed to hook up and push Gordon on the final restart with three laps to go, but when Matt Kenseth, Bayne's teammate, lost his own drafting partner, David Ragan, Bayne was suddenly pressed into duty to push Kenseth.
   And that didn't work out very well for all three.
   Kenseth and Gordon both had cars strong enough to win Talladega, and Bayne was in position to profit again, as he had at Daytona in February.
   But when the smoke cleared, Gordon finished 27th and Kenseth 18th and Bayne 15th.
   "I spoke to Trevor numerous times….poor guy -- I felt for him to be honest with you," Gordon said.
    "I think it was an at-the-moment call he had to make (to dump Gordon and start pushing Kenseth),  based on what was happening in the Ford camp during the week -- of saying 'Hey, we've got to help one another out the best we can.'
    "Trevor had to make a decision. It was unfortunate for me…and really it was unfortunate for them, because they fell back trying to get connected.
    "At that time I definitely questioned the intentions -- whether their intentions were never to work with me.
   "After talking to Trevor I feel confident that was not the case, that it was Matt had lost his drafting partner….and he had to let me go at that point."
    Ironically Kenseth said he'd lost all radio contact with anyone and couldn't talk at that point.
    Gordon said the decision ultimately cost Bayne himself a shot at victory.
     "Unfortunately I think it took away an opportunity for Trevor to win that race, and I told him this," Gordon said.
    "I said 'Listen: one way you can think about it, 'Okay Matt is trying to win a championship.'
    "'I don't know if that helped him (Kenseth) or hurt him by connecting with you.'
     "But from a Ford standpoint if he (Bayne) had pushed me all the way, we could have battled those two guys up there for the lead (Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer)….and then he (Bayne) could have dumped me coming to the line like Clint did, and finished ahead of me, and got possibly a win or a very good finish for that team."
    Then Gordon issued a warning:
   "I think this whole manufacturer thing (Ford versus Chevrolet), all of us have to be careful with saying we cannot work with someone, because you might take away the possibility of you winning the race for your manufacturer by being too strict with those guidelines."

Hey Nascar: You need to

Hey Nascar: You need to listen to Dale Jr. The boy knows what he is talking about. We spend alot of money going to Talladega two times a year. We are getting tired of the type of racing that is going on now. We are thinking about giving up our tickets which we have had at least 10 years, maybe longer. Make some changes before you lose all your fans at Talladega. I love that place but the last several races have been boring. Of course I am a Dale Jr. fan. Me and thousands of other people love to watch that boy get around that track. Do something now. I will have to renew my spring tickets soon and I dont want to if we have to go and watch that crap again. You are taking fun away from the fan and drivers.

Actually Junior doesn't know

Actually Junior doesn't know what he's talking about. The 2004 spoilers were not smaller; they'd actually increased in size from 2002 because they discovered what they should have known would happen after they took off the roof rails - the draft became ineffective and cars had too much difficulty passing. Junior is recommending a shock/spring package and smaller spoiler to try and induce aeropush (the "beachball effect" he mentions; Humpy Wheeler also calls it "the ducktail effect") on the plate tracks - why on earth should any rules package be put in place to INDUCE aeropush? The wrecks will still be there and all you've done is screw up ability to pass. Taking away spoiler is the 5&5 Myth Of Auto Racing - it didn't work in October 1993 (it lasted only that one month and produced a hideously forgettable Charlotte race), it didn't work for the entirety of 1998 (Bobby Hamilton noted how it backfired by noting the cars pushed in dirty air on short tracks), and it didn't work on John Darby's watch (2004 on to the debut of the COT).

What is so wrong about what they have for the racing now? Is superdraft racing SERIOUSLY that much an affront to racing? With a per-race average of 75 lead changes?

HEY NASCAR we only want

HEY NASCAR we only want chevys to win, so as long as they win we're fine. now that a ford won daytona we expect a rule change just like in '99 i mean you showed us rule changes are for when fords wins. so don't disappoint us.

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