Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Daytona 500 drivers are mulling over Thursday's 150s and pondering what might happen Sunday

  Kevin Harvick says the trailing man in these two-car packs should have the advantage on the last lap. Here (L-R) Greg Biffle hanging with Roush teammate Carl Edwards, David Reutimann hanging with Toyota teammate Michael Waltrip, and Clint Bowyer hanging with Childress teammate Jeff Burton (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Now that they've had a good night's sleep over it, or maybe a bad night's sleep, drivers are starting to understand just how Sunday's Daytona 500 is shaping up.   
   And Kyle Busch says he's going to let his crew work on his 500 car Friday and he'll skip the three hours of practice.

   "We all know what we've got, and there not much really to learn," Busch says.
   Of course he's well aware of the pitfalls of practice here – as Dale Earnhardt Jr. learned Wednesday, crashing and losing his pole starting spot.
   Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle look like the two men so far with the confidence and horsepower – and engine cooling – to be top 500 picks.
   But Harvick frets "our engine builders are terrified' of everything. The gun is on the counter, loaded, and you don't want them to pick it up."
   Engine cooling has been a big item so far SpeedWeeks. The longer a trailing car can hang in behind the leader in a two-car draft, the more efficient that draft. But when he has to pull out to cool the engine, the aerodynamics change.
   Harvick says Jack Roush's Ford men appear to have the best engine cooling package. Greg Biffle says Richard Childress' guys, particularly Harvick, "look just a tick better, whether it's cooling or horsepower I don't know."
   Toyota's Kyle Busch says Ford and Chevy teams both have better cooling engines to begin with, an advantage over Toyota in that department.
   "We have 'old technology,' and we can only run our engines to 240 degrees," Busch says. "If we go to 250, stuff starts warping.
   "But the new Ford FR9 was designed to have better cooling, and that's why you're seeing Fords do so well.
   "And the Chevy teams have a better cooling engine too; they can run up to 270 degrees no problem."
   In fact Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s engine men have given him the okay to run up to 290, for a while at least.
   All the uncertainty about how to play the 2-car draft and how to find partners and then how to communicate with them – these cars have very limited visibility, and Lexan rear spoilers, with tear-offs, have been suggested to help there – is making this Daytona 500 quite unpredictable.
   Harvick says the men running second the last lap of Thursday's two 150s should have won those races, Clint Bowyer and Regan Smith. But Harvick says Bowyer and Smith waited too late to make their move on the leader.
   Bowyer agreed he was "about six inches too late," referring to the photo-finish with Jeff Burton. But Bowyer says his chief concern at that point was to ensure that one of Richard Childress' cars won the race, and he was worried that if he made a move earlier he might let rivals win the race. "And Richard wouldn't have been too happy with that," Bowyer said.
   Are more rules changes coming?
   Drivers seem to feel that NASCAR has played out its hand.
   Indeed, as smooth as this new asphalt is, there doesn't appear much NASCAR can do to change the dynamics. The two-car draft concept is still going to prevail.
   The hot issue, one of them at least, is the closing rate. This track is only three lanes wide (Talladega is at least four, maybe five at points), and when two two-car packs are side by side, a third pack coming up behind to make a move may have an amazing burst of speed, in closing rate, but when it gets there, there may not be a hole to fill. Denny Hamlin crashed Thursday in just such an instance.
   Kyle Busch says in a case like that, it is an option to go below the yellow line and use that part of the track as an escape route, as long as the driver remembers to drag the brake and back off and not advance his position. That would be preferable to crashing.
   All in all, drivers seem to agree with Biffle that the new style of Daytona racing "has been fun so far.
    "It is exciting and different.
    "We really didn't know what to expect coming down here. I don't think any of us expected for it to turn out like it has, with the two-car drafts.
   "But we are getting used to drafting with two cars against another two cars. We are learning very rapidly."
    Harvick says Sunday's 500 could be considerably different, however, when all 43 cars are on the track, and the race is considerably longer, and engine questions may arise. Drivers agree they're not sure how long any two-men might try to hook up; first, it's pretty intense, not only for the drivers but for the spotters. "We might need a backup spotter," Harvick quipped, "because one man's eyeballs may wear out, with all the watching he's got to do."
   The two-car packs to watch: the Childress guys, particularly Harvick as pusher; Roush men Carl Edwards and Biffle and Matt Kenseth.
  Biffle seemed almost jubilant Friday morning when he arrived at the track.
   "We had a great race going…unfortunately at the end Carl and I got broken up, and then that wreck happened and we lost our mojo a little bit," Biffle said.
   "Like any restrictor plate race, I don't think it really matters where you are going to start here in the 500.
    "It will be interesting to see if guys push for 500 miles or not.
    "That, and if NASCAR closes the grill down any more."
    NASCAR has narrowed the front grill opening, to hurt cooling and try to force drivers to break out more. That hasn't worked quite that well. First it changes aerodynamics some; before the change, teams were taping off the nose, to give them tweakability.
    Biffle agrees with Harvick that Smith should have made a move earlier on Kurt Busch in their duel for the win in the first 150 "and tried to side-draft him to the finish line (to slow Busch's car).
    "Sure, it wasn't the 500 on the line….but I would have certainly tried it. I would have pulled out to learn a little bit for the 500."
    Biffle says the Burton-Bowyer draft really caught his eye. "They stayed together longer or as long as we did, and were just a hair faster," Biffle said.
    "The Childress cars seemed a tick better than us."
   Pairing up isn't that easy, of course. "You definitely need a back-up, because Carl and I got separated, and I was out to lunch at that point," Biffle says.
   "There wasn't anybody around I could find. The one guy I did find didn't want to race any more because he was already locked in the 500 and didn't want to risk tearing up his car.
    "You've got to have options."
    Bowyer agreed: "Jeff Gordon was all over me before the race 'Are you going with me? Or are you going with your teammate?' Well I told him I would go with him for a while at the start and then find my teammate. But right away Jeff went with Trevor Bayne…and that opened the door for Jeff Burton to slip right down there, and we hooked up, and I was laughing."
    Radio communications is key, it seems. How many drivers a driver may want to have channel access to could be interesting.
   "We have eight channels on our radios, and we have two radios," Biffle said.
   That's potentially 16 people he can be in communications with.
   But Biffle points out how confusing that can get: "I was on Carl's channel, so I would be listening to his spotter, and Carl…and then his crew chief says something that scares me to death because I can't understand him and I didn't know what he was saying."
    Air traffic controllers might be able to offer advice….
    "It is different….it is something I have never been involved in before…and that makes it interesting for us all, that is for sure," Biffle says.

Make The Push-Car Want To Pass The Leader

What seems to be so disconcerting to people about the lock-bumper superdraft is that the two cars break away - and the push-car in the superdraft is not passing the leader once they break away from the pack. When the lock-bumper superdraft phenomenon began what usually happened waas the superdraft broke the draft, then the second car passed the leader; now during this Speedweeks that generally is not happening.

If NASCAR wants to do something, they need to give incentive for the push-car to pull out and pass the leader once they break away. I suspect this will get back to the whole points system issue again.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com