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Brake issues developing at Daytona....and NASCAR changes the rules to break up two-car drafting

  Jimmie Johnson (48) and Denny Hamlin: NASCAR execs aren't happy with two-car breakaway drafts (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern



   Brake issues, rarely if ever an issue at Daytona and Talladega, took out two cars during Saturday practice for the Daytona 500, according to Goodyear officials, who carefully monitored the issue when Jamie McMurray, last year's Daytona 500 winner, blew a right front.

   Goodyear said McMurray ran over a piece of his own broken brake rotor.
   The story is a curious one: drivers say that in order for the two-car draft to work just right, with these new front bumpers this season, the lead car actually has to drag the brakes, in order to get a push from the trailing car.
    Teams typically use very lightweight brakes here, because the only braking usually needed is when making pit stops.
    Goodyear says it's not worried about the brake issues translating into other tire issues, such as burning up the tire's sealing bead and causing a blowout.
    Greg Erwin, crew chief for Greg Biffle, says "I think what you're seeing is guys lightening up their qualifying package. I'm sure NASCAR will collect the parts and check them, because it certainly could turn into a safety item for them. I haven't spoken with enough people to really know what's going on. But we've heard that maybe three brake rotors broke. Whether they're common types, or whether they've been modified, I don't know yet.
   "We'll have to see if they're common manufacturer or not."
   In a related move, NASCAR officials, hoping to break up those ubiquitous two-car drafts, Saturday morning ordered teams to disconnect extra engine cooling hoses.
   Drivers have been pushing each other, two together, for five or six laps in a faster draft than the typical 30-car pack, because of aerodynamic efficiencies. However engine temperatures in the trailing car in the two-car draft get exceptionally high, so the two cars have to swap positions. The longer the two can run without swapping, the faster the momentum they can generate, potentially breaking away from the pack.


   Dale Earnhardt Jr. draws the pole for Saturday night's Bud Shootout (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


       Mark Martin and teammate Jimmie Johnson were the two fastest in Saturday's final round of Daytona 500 qualifying practice.
       That would make them favorites to battle for the Daytona pole Sunday afternoon.
       Martin was clocked at 185.311 mph (48.567 seconds); Johnson, 184.991 mph.
       However the speeds in the draft are considerably faster. Joey Logano, in his Bud Shootout car Friday evening, hit 204 mph.
       There are 47 drivers vying for spots in the 43-car 500. Only the front row will be set in Sunday's runs; the rest of the 500 field will be set in large by part the finishing order in Thursday's 150-mile qualifiers.
       Perhaps a surprise in Saturday 500 speed was rookie Trevor Bayne, in the Woods' Ford. Bayne will have to make the field either on speed Sunday or by a good finish Thursday, because the Woods aren't in the top-35 locked into a start spot.
    Michael Annett, who is driving this season for a Rusty Wallace Toyota Nationwide team, says last weekend's DWI arrest was a big wake up call.
    NASCAR has put him on probation for the rest of the season.
    Annett, a newcomer to the sport, was quite apologetic about the incident. "These people come here each weekend to watch us race, and there are a lot of kids out there that look up to us as role models.  If I had kids, I think I would be the last real person that I would point to for them to look up to right now. 
    "This is definitely the worst week of my life, the lowest I've ever felt.
    "This can go two ways: it can either be the end of me, or it can be the start of a new life.
    "Driving while intoxicated -- besides shooting somebody – it's the worst thing you could possibly do.  It was just a huge mistake on my part."

    NASCAR is lowering the minimum age for drivers in its regional touring series to 15, for the K&N Pro Series East and West, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour and NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. In 2007 NASCAR lowered the age minimum for the regional touring series from 18 to 16.
     NASCAR announcement of fuel injection for the 2012 Cup season may be a bit curious in its timing, since it is a tacit concession to the outdated nature of its carburetor technology. Fuel injection has been used on street cars for nearly 20 years.
     And NASCAR is apparently still debating the price tag and other aspects. McLaren, the Formula 1 company, has gotten the NASCAR contract for the specialized system, which will be designed uniquely for NASCAR.
     NASCAR teams have been using their own FI systems in their engine rooms for several years, because that is a more precise way to check fuel flow and distribution.
     The chief issue in NASCAR fuel injection systems is how be to police it.

    Remember crew chief Chad Knaus' pit crew controversy at Texas last fall, where, angered by some bad pit stops, Jimmie Johnson's team boss benched his whole crew and brought over Jeff Gordon's crew to finish the race?
    For this season Knaus and fellow crew chief Steve Letarte have worked over the winter to come up with a new pit crew system, with a first string and second string.
   "This opens up a whole new aspect of things we've never been able to do," Knaus says. "If we can keep our roster as full as we need it, we're going to maybe have the ability to have a different pit crew at a track like Dover or Martinsville, as opposed to Daytona or Fontana where the pit boxes that are real big versus the ones that are really small.
    "Maybe you need a different type of person. This is going to give us those opportunities. It's going to be fun to watch how it evolves."


This Is Why John Darby Has To Be Fired

This has Darby's fingerprints all over it, because it's based on the same premise as the 5&5 rule he forced on the sport - or should I say RE-forced - back in 2004 - that if the drivers lift, the speeds will slow down. The premise failed in 1998 (the first full 5&5 season) and it failed again from 2004 onward when Darby likewise cut downforce, forced multiple swaybar changes, and also saw changes in tires. Yanking out cooling hoses will not make the drivers back off the lock-bumper superdraft - not with how effective is is for passing; no driver worth his salt will give up that much extra passing.

Darby claimed the speeds were only 193 in a conventional draft, but I saw speeds in the 197 range and higher. If they're worried about speeds - and they should be - then mandate the smaller restrictor plate.

That NASCAR even thinks the lock-bumper superdraft is a bad thing shows why John Darby needs to be fired. The guy brings nothing credible to the table.

Ouch! A little heavy-handed

Ouch! A little heavy-handed here....but I understand what you're saying. What I don't understand is how, with all these high-dollar engineers and computer simulation programs and all that no one could see the two-car breakaway coming and analyze it before we all get to SpeedWeeks. The cooling hoses, well, right now I'm more concerned about drivers riding the brakes and brake rotors blowing out and then cutting tires. That to me is a major safety issue. But so far I'm not seeing any reaction in the Cup garage....but I can tell you Goodyear people aren't happy about it.

Net Result Turns Out To Be A Radically Mixed Bag

Now that Speedweeks 2011 has run, the net result of the lock-bumper superdraft turns out to be stunningly mixed.

THE GOOD: - The lead changed a race-record 74 times among a race-record 22 drivers; the win came from a dark-horse driver; the win was the first true comeback in the sport since 2001 - the last time the Wood Brothers won; the field saw a competitive balance generally missing from the sport.

THE BAD: - For all the lead changes, what the 2-car superdrafts created also had two big negatives.

1, the sport saw a new level of F1-style team racing, with the push-car mostly refusing to race the leader, instead just sitting there running interference; this swelled into drivers radioing each other to coordinate "swaps" instead of actually fighting for position.

2, the tandems generated a pretty strong aeropush effect that was stopping cars outside the top ten from catching and passing the leaders. Contrast this with the Truck 250, where even though it turned out to be the least competitive race of Speedweeks the Trucks had superdrafts (Kyle Busch was the most noticeable superdraft push-vehicle with all the steam spewing out his engine) yet no noticeable aeropush resulted.

3, the race-record sixteen yellows, mostly for crashes. There were several blown tires and blown engines (a striking number for a restrictor plate race) and the 2-car superdrafts with the extra heat on engines and brakes generated likely had a role; there was also drivers just plain wrecking one another out there, a point made by Junior after his wreck.

Now if something like this carries over to Talladega, then NASCAR has itself a legitimate issue, because there is no place for team racing in NASCAR and it's always a problem when there's aeropush, plus it's not a good idea to overheat brakes etc. But if Talladega is the same as last season when they had superdrafts but the aeropush didn't seem to show up anywhere, then it would seem what happened at Daytona was a bizarre circumstance on new pavement.

The sport needs the good of the superdrafts without the bad - keep the superdrafts but kill team racing and whatever aeropush they might generate.

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