Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Talladega drafting rewind

Sprint Cup cars draft two by two at Talladega in Sunday's
Good Sam 500. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
On Sunday, the young, sweet, innocent, religious, thoughtful and somewhat naïve NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Trevor Bayne made the decision to help out his competition, Jeff Gordon, because Gordon had lost his drafting partner Mark Martin. Soon after, Bayne, who races for Wood Brothers but was running with a Roush Yates engine, noticed fellow Ford driver Matt Kenseth was without his partner, David Ragan. Kenseth, like Gordon, is in the Chase. Roush Fenway Racing is a Ford team, unlike Gordon's team Hendrick Motorsports, which runs Chevrolets.

Earlier in the week, Ford manufacturers had given orders that they were not allowed to help out the competition, especially those in the Chase. The fact that Chevrolet is celebrating its 100th anniversary could’ve also played a small role in Ford’s decision. Why would you help out the competition - and one celebrating a milestone, at that?

Jack Roush, an experienced team owner, also wanted to make sure his boys would do what they could do to help Kenseth and points leader Carl Edwards stay ahead in the standings for a win and for extra points to be able to win the Cup at the end of the season.

Bayne was put in a pickle; he left Gordon and worked with Kenseth. At that point, Gordon drifted to the right and slowly slid to the back of the pack. What was Gordon doing? Was he slowing down? Hitting the brakes? No, he was being drafted, meaning, he was pushed back by the wind which caused an anti-gravitational force, which is similar to what happens to a sky-diver when he pulls the string on his parachute.

What causes the draft in the first place and why does it seem like we only see it in Talladega and now in Daytona?

The draft is when two cars are technically pushing each other. Two cars running nose to tail are faster than one by itself. Pushing gives the cars more aerodynamic advantage.

The only reason we see drafting in ‘Dega and Daytona is because the tracks are high-banked and big ovals, which make the cars faster; so much faster that they need a restrictor plate to slow them down. There’s no need for drafting at other tracks like Pocono or at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because the tracks are flatter, which helps control the speed.

Because of the draft and the phenomenon of two-car tandems, teams needed to pair up for racing and they worked together on a plan. When Ford announced they wouldn’t allow their drivers to pair up with another team, especially Chevy, this changed plans for Tony Stewart and David Gilliland, who had worked together at the previous restrictor-plate races this season. Fortunately, they had time to re-strategize.

Once on the track, however, drivers who lost their partners because of accidents or other failures were stuck looking for someone else. Such as the incident between Gordon and Bayne. Gordon admitted to being desperate and had said that he wanted to pair up with the No. 13 car of Casey Mears (former HMS teammate). The two, however, did not have radio communications, so that cancelled out Mears and Gordon was stuck looking for another date. It wasn’t wise for Gordon to pair up with another Chase contender, either, so after he lost Bayne, he was on his own and finished the race in 27th position.

Now what about team strategies? Let’s look at it this way: NASCAR is a sport and like other sports, the teams are competitive. In competition, one person or the entire team must have a plan in order to win. They must have direction for all to follow and all players must adhere to the plan in order for it to be executed properly and lead to a win. Without team strategies, the entire race might look like anarchy.

As sweet as it may be for Bayne to apologize and to admit he’d rather lose a race than to have left Gordon high and dry, Bayne needs to remember he was racing. In the world of racing, there comes a time when you need to look out for your team, your sponsors, your manufacturers and your boss, before you worry about being the sweet kid in town that helps everyone out.

How about the other teams?

The 48 and 88 teams paired up again like they did in April at Talladega. Like last spring, the two teams started up front and Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson led a few laps, agreeing to hang low and in the back to avoid crashes. This may have proven to be a good idea and it worked to their advantage, but they were slowed down by a series of late-race cautions. With 25 laps to go, they simply didn’t get to move ahead as planned and had to settle for low finishes. Could this have been an error? Sure it could have, but in the end, playing it safe is a wise idea. A crash that results in a “DNF” (do not finish) is a lot worse than finishing in a low spot on the lead lap. The Hendrick teams took a hard hit at Talladega and they are heading to Martinsville with more work on their back then anticipated. Have they fallen from grace?

In the end, the winner of the race was Clint Bowyer and it was all due to some good old-fashioned, highly competitive racing that he had with his teammate Jeff Burton. Bowyer was the pusher and Burton was the leader after the final caution. On the last turn, Bowyer slid to the left and "raced" Burton to the checkered flag. It was a wild end and some people asked the question, “Why would Bowyer do that?”

Burton should be the only one asking that question because he hasn't won in a few years. But fans, the real answer is: this is racing and if you hang low to help your friend, you’ll finish low. So what Bowyer did was fine; as a matter of fact, since neither of them are in the Chase, it was more than fine. It was two guys having fun making sure that the 100-year anniversary car got to victory lane and making sure that a Cup contender did not win.      



Genevieve is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist living on Lake Norman in North Carolina where she loves the night life as well  as exercise, ride boats, read, write, go out for dinner at the infamous Birkdale Village and spend quality time with her niece. Genevieve has been a part of media at local press conferences, Charlotte and NH races and at a few charity events hosted by NASCAR drivers. You can follow Genevieve on Twitter at
 @C_Genevieve

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