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Another night of two-car drafting...and the losers were, well, there were a lot of them

  Mark Martin never has liked plate racing at Daytona and Talladega, and he's now got another reason why (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Now, after three of these tandem-drafting plate races at Daytona and Talladega, just what are drivers and crew chiefs really thinking about and planning for race strategy? Is there any rhyme or reason to the seemingly chaotic action, to and fro…up till the final 20 or 30 miles?
   David Ragan, after winning Saturday's Coke Zero 400, in another topsy-turvy Daytona race, just smiled and shrugged his shoulders: "Game plans? Strategy? We don't know either."

   Drew Blickensderfer, Ragan's crew chief:  "Certain people want to go to the back (of the pack). The Hendrick cars wanted to run up front for a while, then they went to the back. Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray do that too.
   "David and our partner Matt both like to be towards the front – if  the wrecks happen, they're in front of them.
   "So our plan was 'if we can see the front, we're going to stay there….'"
   Of course there's more to the mass confusion than just that.
   And it's not clear if fans really like this two-car drafting or not.
   Car owner Jack Roush says there's a very simple, cheap fix, if NASCAR wants to eliminate it:
   "You fix the front and the back of the car so if they have contact, there is an inclined angle that would drive the rear wheels off the ground to stop it," Roush said. "It's easy to stop it, if NASCAR really wants to stop it."
   With the current car, the front and rear bumper planes are matching, "so they could be conducive to push one another," Roush said.
   "I thought in February that we'd be happier having these cars paired up two at a time, and the drivers would be more in control of their circumstances and less likely to be involved in a wreck that wasn't their own problem. But I think that it's about the same.
    "I think when you come to these restricted tracks, there is such a premium for keeping your foot on the gas to maintain your momentum that you're inclined to not use reason, sometimes, and get out of the gas and separate yourself from the risk.
    "But it's exciting racing. Daytona and Talladega both have been known for the fast speeds and for all of the excitement that is unique to those two tracks. And we've got something now that I think is no less exciting than it's been….and it's no more hazardous or less hazardous than when we had the 30-car drafts."



  David Ragan and teammate Matt Kenseth 1-2 at the finish line, with Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne right behind (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


The night's succinct box score for the unfortunates:
   -- Carl Edwards slapped the wall early, in an errant bump with teammate Greg Biffle. And it cost Edwards the Sprint Cup tour lead.
   -- Jimmie Johnson and the Rick Hendrick guys looked strong early but opted for a laid-back strategy midway and never really got back into contention. Confusing pit strategy proved costly for Johnson and teammate/partner Dale Earnhardt Jr. And then Mark Martin tangled late with Joey Logano and got the worst of it….just after Jeff Gordon had gotten spun out.
   -- And Richard Childress' powerful four-some – Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer – had problems late.
   Earnhardt and Johnson were particularly angry afterwards.
   "I am really ticked off," Earnhardt, 18th, said. "Jamie McMurray just drove down into the side of me and drove me to the apron….I don't know where he was going.
    "I was just trying to get to the finish line…We weren't racing for the win.
    "I were lucky to get out of that one big wreck over there….
    "It is just weird racing.
    "What kind of move can you make? I mean, Man, what kind of move can you make in racing like this?
    "There ain't no move you can make. You just hold it on the mat and try not to wreck into each other. And you see how good we are at that.
      "I don't like this kind of racing, and you know it."

No happy returns for Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne (21) (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   And what was the deal when Johnson pitted routinely and Earnhardt didn't? That split the partners up.
   "I don't know," Earnhardt said. "I'm driving my car, doing what I am told…and they decided to do something different.
    "I can't run the whole damn thing from the seat of the damn race car.
     "I'm just doing what I'm told out there.
     "I don't know how that affected us, if it did at all. It probably didn't.
      "It was just a foolish race. I don't know."
    In the span of just seven laps late a good 30 cars got wrecked.
      Johnson, who wound up 20th, wasn't happy either: "It's just normal plate stuff. We do have the two-car tandem….but at the end we're in a big pack and it's still restrictor plate racing.
    "It's so hard to see how many hours these guys put into these cars to have them torn up in the blink of an eye like that."
    And what was Martin doing when he collided with Logano?
     "I have no idea, didn't really see it," Martin said. "On the restart I thought Logano and I were going to hook up. I must have been four inches not ahead of him, and I was trying to get in front of him so we could go.
    "I felt him touch me, and I was trying to save it….then cars were hitting everybody."


    Things can still get messy in a hurry at Daytona....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   So at the end the story was David Ragan….which, considering the problems and pressures he's faced this season, makes for a great story line.
   Ragan, though just 25, a three-year tour veteran with Roush, has been through a rash of bad luck. His sponsor, UPS, is on the fence about whether or not to re-sign with Roush and Ragan. And Ragan's long winless streak has been all the more painful considering the hot runs teammates Edwards, Kenseth and Greg Biffle have enjoyed.
   Kenseth tried to put it in some perspective: "I've seen David mature a lot and learn a lot.  When he came in here and started driving, he didn't have a lot of experience, especially driving big, heavy cars.  He's had a couple different crew chiefs and car chiefs and crews…until they found a good mix that worked really well with him. 
    "I don't know why it is like that, but you've got to get that right mix of people. It seems like he's got that right now.
    "They've had really fast cars all year.  He's sat on at least one pole, maybe more.  He's been the fastest in practice a lot. They've had really fast cars….and you could see it coming."

   Still, the sting of losing the Daytona 500….
   Wiping out that bitter loss has been a while coming. "If we had won Martinsville I would have said 'Man, we've moved on past that Daytona race.'
    "But coming back here to get that win -- here at Daytona -- is that extra little bit that I wanted. To show Daytona 'Here's what we've got.'
    "That makes it a little more special."
    And Kenseth gave Ragan the pushes he needed to win.
   But they were challenged by Joey Logano and pusher Kasey Kahne.
   For Logano, who has been somewhat under the gun this season too, for a long run of less than impressive races, the weekend showed he has finally appeared to have caught fire again. Remember last fall how hot he and crew chief Greg Zipadelli were down the stretch.
    Logano, who worked with teammate Kyle Busch most of Saturday's 2-1/2-hour race, had to change his plans late, when Busch got knocked into the wall in the final miles, when Jeff Gordon got knocked sideways in heavy traffic.   
    "Kyle was put in the fence, knocked his fender in, and cut his right-front down, and I was alone," Logano said. "And Kasey was alone out there too.
    "So on the restart me and Kasey hooked up."
    Just behind Ragan and Kenseth.
    "Getting in line third and fourth, I was hoping we'd get a run down the back straight and these guys would try to go to the outside in turn three, and we could try to pull them apart to win the race.  Just couldn't get there.
    "I started a little run and was just about to make my move, and we just pushed them ahead a little bit. But it wasn't enough to stay there.
    "And David and Matt were loyal to each other all day. So you knew nothing was going to happen; they were going to work together to make sure one of them won the race."

   Meanwhile Trevor Bayne's dream season hit another bump Saturday night, with an early out in the Daytona 400, when some push-drafting from Brad Keselowski went awry just 10 miles into the 170-lap overtime race.
   Bayne had started from the front row, but the Daytona 500 winner went spinning into the wall minutes later.
   Bayne didn't have a preset drafting partner, as most in the field did. "As I was falling through the field, we found Brad," he said. Keselowski likewise was looking for a tandem partner.
   "I wanted to be a pusher, because I know that these things can happen," Bayne, running in only his second Daytona race, said. "He was pushing us down the frontstretch…I was lifting a bit, letting him get to my bumper.
    "I don't know if I turned down more getting in (turn one), or if he came up across our bumper. But our bumpers caught wrong, and it sent us spinning."


    The winners: David Ragan pushie, and teammate Matt Kenseth pusher (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

that's Racing-NOT!

Mike I follow your post frequently and enjoy them very much. But, I am an old time racer, and saturday night was not a race. It was a big gamble. The worst racing I have ever witnessed. The GWC should be discontinued immediately, along with the tandem hook ups. Guessing the total cost of all that carnage after the event. (can't call it a race) will total over half milliom dollars. Personally,it is stupid. Sooner or later the sponsors will take a long look at that and start to decline their investment. Mike you might already have consulted with owners in relation to this cost factor, if not, may I suggest.
thanks for writings. Looking forward to the next post.

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