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The big question has already been answered about the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona this weekend. That question was how the different drivers were going to handle the “Two Car Draft”, (some call it “the Two Car Tango”), but it was answered before they got to Daytona this week. Many had already started planning their strategy a couple of weeks ago and most had already chosen their partners for drafting before unloading their cars off the haulers. It still remains to be seen how that strategy plays out simply because “stuff” happens in restrictor plate racing that can’t be forseen and this fan doesn’t see this night race at the super speedway being any different.
The next big question was wondering who would actually sit on the pole and that was answered Friday in the late afternoon and early evening. Mark Martin was fastest and took his fiftieth career pole in NASCAR Cup. He and the Daytona 500 winner for 2011, Trevor Bayne, will make up the front row. Yeah, I know many, (including myself), downplay the importance of qualifying on a regular basis but I do find it interesting that a fifty two year old and a twenty year old make up the front row. (Some have even said it is the old and new of it.)
From this fan’s view, after observing the practice session and qualifying (even though qualifying doesn’t tell us anything about the way the race will go), I don’t see this race being that much different than the race in February. The track is still smooth and still has a lot of grip according to the drivers. And it is very obvious it will be two-by-two unless someone discovers how to go faster in groups of three or four.
I look forward to this race with mixed emotions and it is my opinion the two car draft has changed restrictor plate racing completely. Now, when I say mixed emotions, I’m not saying they are negative emotions, I’m just saying restrictor plate racing is different than it was. In some ways, I kinda miss the big packs and watching them swap positions lap after lap. It seemed there was little to distract those watching because, at any moment, someone in that large pack of cars could get just a little squirrely and suddenly there would be mayhem and a bunch of spinning and sliding cars often changing the possible outcome of the race.
The “big one” usually affected more than just those close to the action, it affected anyone that couldn’t get out of the way. In those big packs, it could have been a contender, or someone with no chance of winning, that was taken completely out of contention and it didn’t matter which number was on the side of the car or who was driving.
With the two car draft, there is still a lot of action and they still run in packs. The difference is, (at least from my view), there is a bit of separation and when one of the twosomes get a run, they seem to blow by everyone and then they hit a wall. Of course you know I’m not talking about a literal wall (at least, most of the time) but a wall of air that seems to slow their progress and let’s someone else take over until they hit that same momentum killer.
In this case, momentum is key and that is what makes the end of the race so interesting. The teams have to time their move just right if they want to win. A great example of this was the race at Talladega in the spring. With eight of the contenders finishing four abreast and only thousandths of a second apart at the finish line, to me that says the finish at Daytona tonight could be one of the most exciting in recent history, including the race in February and the one at Talladega.
So that begs what I call the final question… Which of the groups of two will be crossing the line first to take the checkers? (Wow, I have to admit, you do ask hard questions.)
I have listened to several during the week talk about who should win because statistics say they should. Personally, I’m a little weary of listening to statistics because this is restrictor plate racing, plain and simple, and anything can and usually does happen.
Just because someone has done well in the past and has won or finished in the top five over the last several trips to a restrictor plate track doesn’t really mean that much to this observer. There are simply too many variables when it comes to this type of racing. That is why you see someone like a Trevor Bayne win the 2011 Daytona 500 in only his second start in a Cup car and only a day or two after his twentieth birthday.
So does that mean I’m discounting the possibility of someone like Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon or Dale Jr winning simply because they usually run well at restrictor plate tracks? Of course not; what I’m saying is, just because they usually run well, or because the statistics say they should run well, doesn’t mean they will. When it comes down to the end of the race tonight, we could see a first time winner on a restrictor plate track, or we could see someone that has won before… uh, statistically speaking that is…
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© July 2, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
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