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That drivers' test at Daytona: Looks like there's more work ahead before the Daytona 500

 Remember Homestead-Miami 2010: Carl Edwards (99) wins the race, Jimmie Johnson (48) wins yet another championship. Maybe this time Carl can win both (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   For Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, the last two men standing, it's finally the end of the line, for a season that began sometime back in February at Daytona. When they cross the finish line Sunday, one will be NASCAR's new champion, ending Jimmie Johnson's five-year reign.
  However for everyone else 2012 is already well underway…though Tuesday's rules testing at Daytona International Speedway didn't provide any conclusive ideas of what the rules package might be for next year's season opening Daytona 500.

   NASCAR hasn't been fond of the two-car drafts that the new super-smooth Daytona pavement has created, and it's tried several tweaks to break up that game and recreate the big-pack racing – which drivers generally abhor as too dangerous.
   While many drivers say they like the two-car drafts, because it gives them more control of their own destiny, Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't among them.
   In fact Earnhardt was among the first, back in February, to complain about the two-car packs, saying he'd prefer to make his own 'friends' out on the track as each race goes along, rather than having to make pre-race pacts with partners.
   So Earnhardt was one of the seven men testing Tuesday afternoon at Daytona.
   "I did not anticipate finding a magical solution here today, but we will be much better off, and a lot smarter about things, by having tested," Earnhardt said.
   "This is just part of the work that needs to get done.
    "There are a lot of creative minds; we're learning what we need to know.
     "I think we're all in agreement we probably won't totally rid ourselves of the tandem racing, but I'm confident we can get to the point where it will not be the norm."
   Just what that might mean is unclear. But drivers will return to Daytona in January for three full days of testing, Jan. 12-14.
   Earnhardt, Aric Almirola (also in a Rick Hendrick car), David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose in Jack Roush Fords, Joe Gibbs' Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Joe Nemechek were the seven testing this week.
   After baseline runs with the rear spoilers and restrictor plates used in the July Fourth Daytona 400 (4-1/2 inches tall by 63 inches wide; plate holes 29/32nds of an inch in diameter), drivers wound up the day with much smaller spoilers (three inches tall by 62 inches wide).
   The goal generally is to take away rear grip from the cars, which would hopefully create a disincentive for drivers to get too close to each other.
   How much drivers might like this whole idea is unclear.
   NASCAR's John Darby said "one of our goals is to give the teams more options when it comes to how they draft, and we believe we're headed in the right direction.
   "We want to be able to reduce the difference in the speeds between the tandem style of racing and more of the pack style of racing."
   However the 'new' aerodynamic rule this season has been that two cars together are faster than one and are more efficient then three or more. So drivers have paired off. The closing rate, however, has been startling, as much as 10 mph for a two-car draft catching a pack.
    Another part of the Daytona test concerns NASCAR's mandated switch next season from venerable carburetors to electronic fuel injection. Such a move is more for marketing appeal, supposedly, to a 'younger' demographic, than anything else; carburetors may be old-fashioned but they certainly do the job well, and without controversy. Fuel injection is a much more complicated system, and carries its own potential for unforeseen pitfalls. And some engine men are skeptical about how fuel injection will be handed by the sanctioning body.

  Truex made wry reference to the unusual late-season test: "The off-season is get shorter every year, but dang! I'm working on 2012 already.  It's kind of crazy.
    "I'm not sure exactly what NASCAR's goal is. I don't think any of us do. They haven't really said.
    "It feels like they're trying to put an end to this two-car draft…or at least make it so we can only get together for a lap or two, and have to switch, or run in a pack. 
    "So far we've been taking the spoiler off, taking the rear-spring out of the car, trying to get them to be a little bit more slick and get through the air better and run faster -- and uncomfortable getting pushed. 
    "So far we haven't been able to get there."
     In fact Tuesday Truex says he was considerably faster than at Daytona in July.
     On top of that "it seems the faster we go, the better they drive."
     Of course with the new asphalt speed is easy. "Honestly, I feel like we could run 230 mph and have the car stick and still be able to run wide open," Truex says.
    The Tuesday test, Truex said, didn't really indicate what drivers could expect when the full field is on the track.
   "When you're in a two-car pack and you're catching a pack of six cars, the cars drive different than they do with just two cars on the track," Truex says.
    "So where we don't know exactly how these changes are going to affect the cars, until we actually get out there in race conditions."


   Hottest duo on the stock car circuit: Tony Stewart and crew chief Darien Grubb (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR Sees It Can't Eliminate Tandem Drafting

Junior's comment that "drivers agree there is no way to get rid of tandem drafting" is a statement that is based on what should be obvious. When passing ability is so great with the tandem drafts, and given the obvious fact that there is no such thing as a conventional draft that can ever be faster, then it should be the message to NASCAR to give it up; stop trying to "get rid" of tandem drafts. The bottom line remains they are averaging 75 lead changes a Cup race and 40 lead changes per Busch/Nationwide race with the tandem drafts, and the negative by-products of team racing and coordinating swaps are becoming self-defeating for the drivers - Clint Bowyer's win in October disproved a particular myth that it is impossible for a push-car to break off from the leader's bumper to pass.

Whatever timeless tosh Junior and John Darby put out here, it's just that - tosh. Darby, after all, is the guy who pushed through the New 5&5 Rule of 2004-7 before the COT arrived, and it combined to be a colossal competitive failure, so his credibility has huge holes in it right away. Junior is flat wrong about not being able to tandem draft 1998-2004 - they could have done it then if they'd figured it out. And commenting on how the bumpers match up, he obviously missed the Truck race at Talladega where the bumpers don't match up and it made ZERO difference. And why is Junior so upset that drivers tandem draft all race? Junior did, after all, show that it works to begin with.

Danica Patrick Sprint Cup Testing

When will we see Danica Patrick Test a Sprint Cup Series Car since she hasn't been inside a Sprint Cup Series Car in Her Career?


surprised that she wasn't at daytona for that tuesday test. she needs seat time, you're right. daytona 500? whew!

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