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After a race like Saturday's wild, unpredictable Shootout, NASCAR is considering a rules change?

  Denny Hamlin passing Ryan Newman for the lead on the last lap of Saturday's Bud Shootout....but Kurt Busch (yellow), with a push from Jamie McMurray, wound up the winner when NASCAR penalized Hamlin for passing below the yellow line. Hamlin suggests that NASCAR drop the out-of-bounds rule for the last lap of a race. After a finish like this, NASCAR wants to change the rules? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   One of the best races ever at Daytona? That's one view of Saturday night's amazing Bud Shootout, which drivers generally liked.
   But what do the fans think?
   And what might NASCAR do – perhaps change the rules now for Thursday's twin 150s?

   If a rules change is coming, what might it be? And what might be the purpose?
   NASCAR officials have apparently been less than enthusiastic about the two-car packs that dominated play here during January testing and again Saturday night in the 75-lap sprint. And NASCAR seems aimed at trying to kill the two-car packs and get all these drivers back in a big pack.
   However drivers have long dreaded the big packs at Daytona and Talladega. So drivers, despite the dramatically increased speeds, seemed comfortable with the field broken up as it generally was Saturday night.
   And there were a record 28 official lead changes among nine drivers over the 187 miles. At that pace, in the 500 there could be a record 74 official lead changes.
   So changing the rules? A week before the biggest race of the season? Under consideration: a pop-off valve on these expensive, high-pressure radiators, to increase engine heat and thus presumably force drivers to back off; a smaller restrictor plate, the traditional response.

  Here's the heart of Denny Hamlin's argument that he should have been the Shootout winner: Hamlin is ahead of Ryan Newman at this moment, and Hamlin has gotten to this precise point without doing anything illegal. So he should be in fact the official leader at this point. NASCAR says the yellow line rule is that a driver cannot have his two tires (or more) below the yellow line while advancing his position. At this point it appears Hamlin, while touching the line, does not have two tires below the line. And whatever happens after this particular moment should have no bearing on the fact that at this moment Hamlin is the leader of the race. (Photo: Fox TV)

   One question, and this isn't the first time this point has been raised: Why essentially waste Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway with meaningless better-of-two-lap qualifying? Why not instead run the twin 150-mile qualifying races instead? That would give drivers, crews and NASCAR a second and third look at the racing here before making any dramatic rules changes. Plus, the twin 150s on Sunday would certainly attract a larger crowd than was on hand here Sunday...and it might even boost the Saturday Shootout crowd too.
   One issue:
   Is 206 mph – the speed of many two-car drafts Saturday – too fast here? Well, no one got airborne.
   And that one blazing run that Kyle Busch -- running alone -- got in passing half the field once, in a burst of speed that must have been 15 mph quicker than the pack itself, should be considered.
   In fact there's a lot to consider and reflect about Saturday's Shootout before making any kneejerk rules changes, it would seem.
   One possible issue: do drivers feel free to say just what they feel about all this, or is the specter of some secret $50,000 fine from NASCAR for saying something politically incorrect hanging over their heads? Drivers here know they're supposed to be upbeat about this Daytona 500, in order to generate fan enthusiasm. Does that mean they're not supposed to complain?
   Drivers said they really can't tell much difference between 180 and 200 here.
   But one big issue with speed is the 'take off speed' when a stocker gets turnaround.
   NASCAR doesn't want these cars getting airborne.
   And in Saturday's various wrecks nobody got airborne. Ryan Newman says that's the key, more than any speed number.
   Two-car drafting packs, swapping partners, the unpredictability of it all, made this Shootout memorable.
   Veteran Dodge engineer Howard Comstock says speeds were 10 mph quicker than here last year, because the new asphalt is so smooth drivers can push each other virtually all the way around the track. Comstock also points out that the cool weather – 50 degrees – helped boost speeds. In fact he called the race conditions Saturday night "the best we may see here for another 40 years."
   Thursday afternoon's 150s and next Sunday's 500 should be run in much warmer weather, perhaps 25 degrees warmer, which Comstock says would cut speeds dramatically.
    One question Sunday morning – and NASCAR officials say they probably won't make any decision until after 500 qualifying – was what might be the effect if NASCAR did try to cut speeds back 10 mph. Steve Addington, the winning crew chief, says that wouldn't break up the advantage the two-car drafting has over the big packs. The simple physics of efficiency of a tight two-car draft versus a huge meandering pack would seem to back that up.
   And if NASCAR makes an argument that slower would be safer, last spring's Atlanta crash involving Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski should be considered.
   "We've always been told that 200 mph was the 'magic' number we shouldn't exceed," Comstock says. "Is that still the case? Or are we now comfortable at 206?'"

      Addington: "I don't know what they (NASCAR) are planning on doing, if anything, but if we go to a smaller plate it's just going to be a slower two car deal.  It's not going to separate the guys doing what they're doing.  They may shorten that length of time (that two men can run together without swapping spots), but I don't think they'll end it."
   Ryan Newman, who called the Shootout "the most unexpected race I've ever been a part of," conceded that, as leader at the white flag, he was a sitting duck for the three men challenging him, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray.
   "I think this type of racing is acceptable," Newman says. 
   "But that's a better question for the fans. They saw what Daytona used to be like; they saw what Talladega is.
   "But to me the biggest question is the speed factor and being safe when we get in some of those situations. 
    "From what I saw, the cars that did get turned around got turned around in the corner, and therefore there was much more G-force to hold the cars down on the racetrack, than had they been turned around on the straightaway. 
    "Ultimately the cars have to stay on the ground for it to be safe.  We're going to have crashes, we're going to bounce off the safety barriers, guys are going to blow tires; it's racing.  But the car staying on the ground is what's the most important thing."
    With the Shootout so unpredictable, drivers were cautious: "All of us were very respectful with the runs we were getting," Newman said. "There was probably 15 miles an hour difference at times, and if a guy was inexperienced, or had to make something happen and pulled up in front of you, it was going to be a big wreck."
    The 206 mph? Newman said he didn't feel any different than when running 199. "I've always said the most important thing is we keep the race cars on the racetrack. 
    "So whatever we've worked on with our lift-off speed – when the car is going backwards, sideways -- whatever else to keep the cars down, that's what NASCAR needs to focus on for making the race safe.
    "If the cars get airborne at 140, we'd better not cross 139. I don't know what that number is; I don't know if there is a true number out there.
   "But if we were doing 212, and the cars were safe, and we could keep them on the ground, then that's fine with me."

   Racing tactics were unusual, and interesting to try to decipher, drivers and fans alike: "The way the two cars worked together, the number of laps you could go straight without switching, was kind of unexpected," Newman said.
   "The four-car breakaway at the end -- and there was another four car breakaway behind that -- that was unexpected."
   In the two-car drafts, the 'pusher' and 'pushee' had to play things cautiously. "My spotter was driving for me as if I was the car in front of me when I was behind somebody pushing," Newman said. "You're at the mercy of his (the spotter's) perception of car lengths and speed.
   "For instance, one time in the trioval I went down below the yellow line and Greg Biffle was still on my bumper wide-open and I was on the brakes still passing cars, just because that's the way it worked out. I came over the radio and said 'Hey, I had no control there.' So I let the guys have their positions back."

   McMurray says racing here "is so much different than what we've had before, because handling is not important.
    "And even at Talladega we've never been locked together for more than a couple of laps. So it's completely different racing. 
   "When guys behind you get the runs they do, and they're coming so fast -- everyone has driven on a highway and went to get into the fast lane and you see cars coming and know I can't block in front of him because they're coming too fast.
    "You're like 'I need to leave him a path,' because when you're pushing a guy, you just follow him and you can't see anything. And if someone pulls up to block him, you're going to shove him right through him because you can't see."
   And the possibility of NASCAR going to a smaller restrictor plate to slow speeds?
   "If NASCAR decided they wanted to put a smaller plate on, there's not going to be anybody upset about that, because you can't tell the difference, and it's not going to make the racing any different if you make the runs you get at 199 or 206," McMurray says. "You can't feel a difference, and it's not going to change anything for anyone."



The racing in the Shootout

The racing in the Shootout was some of the best restrictor-plate racing I've seen. The cars were able to space out from each other and actually race. The 43-car mob is not racing, especially when it allows slower cars to keep up when they should not be able to. Yes the speeds are faster, but as long as the cars are away from one another there is less threat of "the big one" because a little bobble does not necessarily mean that 15-20 cars will be impacted. Of the 3 wrecks last night, only one of them collected more than the 2 cars involved in them. If NASCAR changes the rules to make the cars into a mob again, they're dumber than I thought.
The Kyle Busch passing the field on the re-start was simply him already being up to full speed having come all the way around from the pits. The rest of the field had not gotten up to speed yet. Busch timed it almost as good as Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder. Can't believe the FOX announcers could not figure out how he did it. It wasn't as if he started at the same speed at the end of the field and passed them all as the announcers made it out to be.
Would love to see time-trial qualifying done away with at all levels. It's boring, and in an era of everybody makes the field under the Top 35 rules, it's pointless. Heat races are exciting, especially if all of the cars are trying to race their way into the field. The only way I would support shorter races is if they ran heat races prior to the feature on race day. 2-3 heats, a support series race, and then the feature. Drivers and crews would only have to be at the track for two days instead of three, and there would not be any qualifying setups. Win-win for everyone.

Can't figure out why people

Can't figure out why people like this sort of racing. I've not really enjoyed the racing at any of the plate tracks of late because a driver has to rely on someone pushing them to be successful. I don't mind the pack, but what I miss is a drivers ability to read the draft and make the right move at the right time. Seeing a drivers skill and machine be what matters. Now and for the last couple years all thats mattered is getting the right push at the right time with the right partner. Get rid of the bump drafting & the two car lock. I want to see one car working the draft through the field, pulling a sling shot pass out of turn 4 for the win come next Sunday.

Shootout and Rule Thoughts

The Shootout was indeed amazing, but the lack of the "mob" racing was certainly disconcerting to one used to seeing it. Saying "the 43 car mob is not racing" is false, and blaming the "mob" racing for big wrecks continues to blame the wrong thing - it's the drivers' fault, not the rules. The difference here is that the lock-bumper superdrafts allow tandems to get away from the pack but the pack can and does catch back up; they also allow a tandem to erase a straightaway gap to the leaders. We saw that at Talladega throughout both races last season. The "mob" is still there and there is some breakaway.
What is disconcerting is the team-racing ethos at work now - the push-car in the superdraft is not passing the leader once the tandem gets the lead; he's just sitting there running interference. That part is what needs to be changed.

The Kyle Busch deal passing the field on the restart because he had all his momentum up has been done before.

I'm not sure heat races would work for most weekends, though having Friday heat races is much better than shoehorning qualifying onto already-crowded Saturdays.

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