Despite NASCAR's rule changes, two-car drafts the norm on first day of Daytona testing

Dale Earnhardt Jr speaks to the media during Preseason Thunder
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR

Despite the new rules package and another rule limiting radio communication, two-car tandems persisted on the first day of preseason testing Thursday at Daytona.

To combat the style of racing that has proven unpopular with fans, NASCAR may implement more rules for Friday’s test session, according to Bob Pockrass of Scene Daily.

Changes under consideration include increasing the size of the restrictor plate to 15/16ths of inch, closing off the grille by an inch on each side and adjusting the radiator’s pop-off valve to release water at cooler temperatures. NASCAR expects this change to cause the engines to overheat more quickly when cars are in a tandem formation.

In the two-by-two tandems, drivers can gain at least 10 mph when drafting together as opposed to single-car runs. In Thursday morning’s session, which was restricted to single car-runs, Jeff Gordon was fastest with a speed of 192.773. In the afternoon session, Kyle Busch led the board with 202.402 mph after drafting with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano. Ten drivers engaged in tandem drafting in the session.

The rules package entering the three-day test mandated a smaller radiator, a smaller overflow tank and placing the radiator inlet up closer into the front center bumper area, all of which target the car’s cooling system.

The changes also included softer springs and a smaller spoiler, aimed at making the handling of the racecars more difficult. According to drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth, NASCAR succeeded in that area - the cars were harder to handle.

“The cars, the track is brand new, and the tire is really good, so the cars don't handle. I like the cars to handle some. I'd like to have to adjust on my car and work on the handling and get it to drive good, but it doesn't go fast enough to have a problem. So that's a little disappointment,” Earnhardt Jr. said.

On Thursday, NASCAR confirmed that radio communication between drivers will be banned for the entirety of the 2012 season. Despite the new regulation, teams worked in two-car tandems in the afternoon session.

Before drivers took to the track in the afternoon, many were doubtful the new rules package would break up the tandems.

“When drivers find out a way to go 10 miles an hour faster it's hard to get them to stop it. That's all I've got to say,” Mark Martin said.

Martin was able to draft with his new Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Clint Bowyer before Martin, the pusher in the pairing, spun Bowyer out in a bump drafting miscue. Bowyer avoided hitting the wall but the car sustained rear-end damage. In a SPEED TV interview, Martin discounted that the limited radio communication factored into the miscue.

Before drafting with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “If I had to guess, I'd guess it's (the Daytona 500) going to look like last year's race.”

Earnhardt Jr. didn’t see the limitation on driver communications affecting the ability to draft together.

“I don't think it'll be a big deal. You know, pretty much everybody is working with teammates anyways. I don't think they're going to limit that,” Earhnardt Jr. said.

“When we first started tandem drafting, you might end up working with somebody outside of your company, but then everybody sort of got a little strict on who they were going to work with and how they were going to do it, and they stuck with that plan the entire races. So I don't think it's that big of a deal.”

In a SPEED TV interview, Johnson said NASCAR’s rule package had made it more difficult for two cars to stay hooked up for long periods on the track. He and partner Earnhardt Jr. were the first two drivers to break the 200 mph barrier during Thursday’s test session.

Earnhardt Jr. was pleased NASCAR’s changes entering the test increased the speed of single-car runs. In recent years, qualifying speeds have topped out in the 180-mph range.

“I'm glad that they opened up the cars a little bit, took a little plate away, took a little spoiler away and gave us a bigger plate,” Earnhardt Jr. said.

Kenseth echoed the sentiment.

“Certainly our speeds are way up compared to what we're used to doing with single car runs the last couple years,” he said.

But Kenseth thinks despite NASCAR’s efforts, the two-car tandem will be here to stay until Daytona’s track surface ages.

“If you looked at it a few years ago, probably two or three years ago, on new tires everybody could run wide open and it was a real two- and three-wide crazy racing. Then all of a sudden it would be two-wide and then it would single out to kind of single-wide, and you would see the cars that would handle really good could almost pass by themselves without really drafting. So that was probably from most drivers' point of view, that was the most fun restrictor plate racing that we had.

“Now, I don't think you're going to get it back like that for probably not as long as I drive. It's going to take a long time to wear the tracks down that much where the cars slip and slide that much unless they get a really small, hard tire on them or something.”
Despite NASCAR's rule changes, two-car drafts the norm on first day of Daytona testing Despite NASCAR's rule changes, two-car drafts the norm on first day of Daytona testing Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Thursday, January 12, 2012 Rating: 5