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The Daytona Rewind: and what to expect at Talladega...and the NASCAR Notebook

  John Darby (R), NASCAR's Sprint Cup tour boss, says he's not hearing many complaints from drivers or teams about Sunday's Daytona 500, so things must have gone pretty well, all in all. Certainly for team owner Jack Roush (L), whose newest star, Trevor Bayne, won the sport's biggest event (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   After considerable pre-race worries that the two-car drafting would mar the Daytona 500, now that the season opener is history – and a bit of legendary history now at that – NASCAR officials seem quite pleased with the way everything turned out.
   NASCAR's John Darby says he's not hearing any major complaints from teams about the two-car drafting that dominated Daytona….and that drivers now predict will also dominate the April 17th Talladega race.

   "The only word that fits is that it was 'different,'" Darby said. "The race was obviously very good. We shattered every record we've ever had there.
   "Typically when we hit a package that nobody likes, we're usually the first to know it. But we just haven't had that happen.
    "It was 'different.' But if you apply stats to it, and consider the racing action, the ability to pass….all the good ingredients were there.
   "Once if the 'world' figures out if 'different is cool……'"
    Two issues – Fox' camera angles might have not translated the racing action that well to the TV audience; and the in-car radio action was downright mesmerizing – who was talking to who on what channels, how many channels can a driver handle while racing at 200 mph, how to find partners…..
     "I don't know about TV…but when you've got action going on everywhere, it may be harder to handle," Darby says.
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. was among the most vocal in disliking the two-car drafts, saying he'd prefer to be master of his own destiny and not have to keep searching for new partners out there. And Earnhardt said he expected NASCAR to hold a big test later this spring to try different aerodynamic options to try to break up the two-car packs before the tour hits Talladega in six weeks.
   However Darby didn't seem very inclined to take Earnhardt's side in all that: "We'll do due diligence, like we always do, and test some things.
   But usually when we go test, it's to fix a problem. And I don't think we've got one that needs to be fixed."


Team owner Richard Childress had some fast cars at Daytona, but not the finishes he'd hoped for. And he wasn't very pleased with NASCAR's mid-SpeedWeeks rules changes either (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   However the Daytona-Talladega radio issue is suddenly a hot one here.
   Drivers and crews spent a lot of pre-race time figuring out how to put in extra radio channels for driver-to-driver communications, and driver-to-spotter-to-driver communications. And they also had to decide who they really wanted to plan to talk to, and negotiate deals.
   Kurt Busch, who has only one teammate, says NASCAR should take a close look at the radio situation before Talladega.
   Other drivers?
   AJ Allmendinger: "It was funny, because multiple times I had some voice come over my radio and ask me to work with him.  I'm like 'Who the hell are you?  Who's talking to me?'
    "Oh, this is David Ragan.'
    "The next yellow I'd be like 'Who in the hell is this?' 
    "Oh, it's Carl, it's Carl.  Do you want to work together?'
     "I'm like 'How do you keep getting my radio channel?  Leave me alone.'"
    At that Allmendinger laughed.
    "In one way, because you're not three and four-wide all the time, it's better," he said. "But in other ways you know that you have to be pushing somebody, otherwise you're left out to dry and you're just going to be driving there by yourself.
     "But the way I looked at it, I needed something different -- because I think my average finish on superspeedways was like 35th. And w finished
   Paul Menard, who also had a good Daytona, spoke to the mechanics of getting all those radio channels in the car for the 500: "Saturday night we were trying to figure out the second radio in the car -- we added the second radio with I think 12 different channels of different car numbers that I could switch and talk to.
     "I only used a couple of them. I talked to Tony Stewart a little bit, I talked to Regan Smith….I tried to talk to Allmendinger, but his radio thing was dead so I couldn’t get through to him.
    "It's very different, for sure. When you first flip over and say 'Hey, Tony, it's Paul. Can you hear me?' And Tony being Tony, you wonder if he's going to lash out at you.
     "But it was all good. It worked really well for everybody. If there are no rule changes, we'll do it again. I don't think there needs to be a rule change, but we'll see."


Dodge's Kurt Busch, who doesn't have a lot of teammates, didn't like all that radio chatter at Daytona (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Carl Edwards --- who concedes his PR leap of faith off the Las Vegas Stratosphere the other day was breath-taking – says the extra radios made Daytona safer: "It was necessary on Sunday for safety.  I thought it was necessary for the guys in front to be able to say 'Wrecking, wrecking. Stop.'
   "That's a lot quicker than telling a spotter, or a spotter seeing it and telling the guy behind. 
    "I don't think we need that in the cars at every track, but it did help.
     "It was good that everyone worked together…and we were able to do that because you just can't see anything.
     "If there's one thing that could make that whole thing safer, it would be a way to see through that spoiler. You just can't see being the guy behind."
     Mark Martin was also radioed in with Allmendinger: "AJ had mine, and Tony had mine, and I don't know who else.  I'm sure Jimmie Johnson had mine.
   "I never talked with my teammates all day. But I was on AJ's channel a good bit. AJ's spotter spotted us both. 
    "And when Tony and I ran together, Tony got on my radio and my spotter spotted us both."



Can't beat these Arizona sunsets (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Drivers may relish getting in the meat of the season now, with downforce tracks ahead till the April stop at Talladega. But reviewing Daytona may take a few more days.
   Regan Smith, who had a great SpeedWeeks, says "we will see the exact same style of racing when we get to Talladega.
   "I'm not smart enough to know what rules change they could make to keep us from pushing anymore. The only thing I've thought is if they change the way the bumpers line up. But that is a pretty significant change that you can't really make.
    "I thought the racing was pretty good. We had a good day so I am naturally going to say that. I know there are some guys that probably hated it, and some guys that loved it, and guys that really didn't care either way.
    "But it was a good show for the fans. It wasn't like the 150s, where you saw two groups of two cars breaking away….
     "I would be okay with the same racing when we get to Talladega. I'm not sure they can change it really."
    Edwards agrees: "As far as what NASCAR can do, I don't know. 
    "And I don't know if what we did on Sunday is safer than what it used to be (with the big 30-car packs). 
    "I don't know what the answer is. 
     "The only thing we really can do is we need to explain to our fans better what is going on.  We need them to understand that it is a different style of racing.
     "It's very confusing, and I've had to explain it all week.
     "That's not a Cup race in a classic sense. But the average person watching doesn't realize that; so they have all these questions, and it's just hard to  explain."



  Carl Edwards, the new NASCAR tour leader (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   NASCAR's various rules tweaks for this season don't all appear to be panning out as hoped, so far at least.
   The new rule barring drivers from getting championship points in more than one division backfired at Daytona, with the three tours' three winners all leaving in last place in the standings.
   And the new rule changing the points from 190-175-170….to 43-42-41….appears to be putting an even bigger premium now on not making mistakes – on playing it all as cautiously as possible, because those last few positions pay even fewer points, relatively, than the old system.
   Will that lead to more drivers just stroking?
   Could be.
   Jimmie Johnson, who got caught up in that early Michael Waltrip crash at Daytona and finished a disappointing 27th, says he and crew chief Chad Knaus think the new points system will penalize bad days even more than the old system.
   "We think so…but only time will tell," Johnson says. "It looks like that way -- The worse you finish, the bad days are going to be tougher to recover from.
   "Luckily it's still early in the season, and we know other people are going to have bad days too.
    "I was one of 15 or 16 in that wreck that had a bad day. At Daytona -- at least at the 500 -- I either run up front and win, or we're on the hook going to the garage to fix the car. I hope to get that out of my system."
    (And there is still some question about those repairs Johnson got at Daytona after that crash. He went to the garage for work, then returned to the track to run one lap, at slow speed, and then went back to the garage for more repairs. NASCAR usually allows only one attempt at getting the car fixed well enough to run at speed. Did Johnson get two attempts?)
    Carl Edwards, the tour leader, since Daytona winner Trevor Bayne got no points, under the new rules, says over the whole season "We'll probably all have about the same number of bad days.
    "But if you have a real bad day - if you have an engine blow up early – that does make it tougher, the way the points are spread. 
    "One point (for last place), two points (for 42nd), three points….that's a pretty bad day. So you can't have too many of those. 
     "I'm very, very glad that we at least made it through the bottleneck that is Daytona.  We made it through one of the riskiest races with almost the maximum number of points we could get.  That's huge for us."


     Jimmie Johnson. Not sure if this championship points system is the right tweak. A bad day, under the new system, is really a bad, bad day. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    That $5 million bonus to any NASCAR driver who runs in and wins the Indy-car series final in October (Sunday, after the Saturday night Charlotte Cup race Oct. 15th) hasn't drawn many takers yet.
    Tony Stewart could do it, but he's all but given up on Indy-car racing the past several years. "I would love to say that I would love to go do it obviously, but it’s the same thing as running the Indy 500.  If you don’t run three or four races, you’re probably not going to have a shot to win it anyway.  Just going to do a one-off deal doesn’t make sense for us to do right now."
   Juan Pablo Montoya could do it too, of course, and his NASCAR team owner also has one of the top Indy-car teams.
   But Montoya is less than enthusiastic about it, even for $5 million.
   "Let's not even talk about it," Montoya says dismissively.
    "If I would like to do it or not, it's just impossible, logistic-wise.
     "If you really were going to try to win the $5 million, you would have to get all the practices down and do it right. And we are racing that weekend (NASCAR in Charlotte).
    "So initially I would say no.
     "It's intriguing, and I think it's intriguing for a lot of people.
     "But being realistic, it's impossible: Are you going to show up on Sunday and race without practice and hope for the best? Who the heck is going to win that?"
    But NASCAR drivers do shuttle mid-summer between Sonoma, Calif., and Wisconsin….
    "Okay, let's try to even analyze it," Montoya says. "It's a three-hour (time) difference, and it's about a four to five-hour flight.
    "Is it feasible at all?
     "Let's say you practice Saturday morning in Vegas; you've got to be done practicing at what time, because it's going to be a five-hour flight to Charlotte, plus a three-hour time difference – it's eight hours. What time does the Charlotte race start?"
    Ah, but remember Bruton Smith owns both the Las Vegas and Charlotte tracks, and he could make things happen, if he wanted.
    And think of the dramatic re-entries Smith could have planned for pre-race theatrics…
   "So it means I would have to start in the back of the field at Charlotte…even if I made it to the race," Montoya says. "Because if you think about eight hours, if the race is at 6 p.m. I need to be in the plane at 10 in the morning.
    "Ain't going to happen.
     "It means I will have to leave the track at 9 or 9:15 if we go in a helicopter.
    "The proposal is pretty freaking cool. Who is going to say no to $5 million that easy?"
    And maybe there is an Area 51 angle to all this. There are some fast machines over there, just outside Las Vegas….
   "Yeah," Montoya says with a smile. "I'd like to fly some of those things."
   AJ Allmendinger calls the Vegas Indy option "definitely interesting. $5 million isn't anything to shy away from. 
    "The way I look at it is you don't ever say 'No' to anything.
    "The guys and girls in that (Indy-car) series, I've raced against a lot of them and I've beat a lot of them. It's definitely something I know I can go out there and compete with them.
    "But it's so early on.  We're only at Race Two here in the Sprint Cup series, and that's my focus. 
    "But you never say 'no' to anything. So we'll just leave that open."


     Juan Pablo Montoya (R, here with Kurt Busch) doesn't think much of that $5 million Las Vegas Indy-car bonus....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    There aren't enough cars to fill this weekend's Nationwide race here, only 40 for the 43-car field. That's economics, with the new Nationwide car, and few good sponsors. Even Jack Roush has two unsponsored cars in the Nationwide field.
   But it's only week two of the year, and a short field this early doesn't bode well.
   Kevin Harvick: "I think it's got to be expected. As the new car was coming, everybody knew there would be some shortfalls in the field, just for the fact that there aren't a lot of (new) cars in circulation.
     "There are no old cars.
    "And the processes (car construction) are substantially different than what they used to be, and it takes some getting used to."
   Not to mention the issue of what to do with all those old Nationwide cars.
    "Even with our team we don't have full fleets of cars, because we're still building," Harvick says.
    "We have all our (Daytona) speedway stuff out of the way, and we have all our cars built through California (March 27th). But that's not the case for most of the teams.
    "It's just going to take some time.
    "It was the right decision to get the cars into circulation from a safety standpoint.
    "But I think short fields are to be expected for a while.
     "Now if you get to this point next year and you have short fields, then you have a problem."


    Teammates Clint Bowyer (L) and Kevin Harvick. Those 'short' fields for Nationwide races? Harvick says it's simply economics....and it may be a while before that part of this sport turns around (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


The radio issue was confusing

The radio issue was confusing and at times led to an unsettling degree of team racing. NASCAR may need to take a look at it - it shouldn't want team racing.

The 2-car superdrafts at Daytona created an issue they hadn't at Talladega in previous races there - the top ten created a huge aeropush that stopped cars outside the top ten from catching the leaders. I've gone back to my tapes of both Talladega races last season (when I'm not on the Youtube broadcasts of those races) and it seems to me Talladega's draft is so different the aeropush couldn't be generated - there would be 2-car superdrafts, but they seemed to stall out once they jumped to a six or so second lead on the pack and a conventional draft could overhaul the superdrafts once they stalled out.
It appears the old situation of Daytona being (by restrictor plate standards) a handling track and Talladega a pure draft track is at work here. Even so, viewing the Truck 250 at Daytona they had superdrafts yet there was no aeropush that I could discern.

Darby overall appears right on this one, as far as it's gone so far anyway. The good of the racing at Daytona is too obvious to ignore and the 2-car superdrafts were THE story all week. Certainly we'd all like to see this kind of racing at the other big tracks.

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