By admin | January 24, 2011
By Richard Allen
In almost every NASCAR race there are clear favorites and clear underdogs. However, in this year’s Daytona 500 that may not necessarily be the case.
The two tracks of Daytona and Talladega are somewhat of a crapshoot under normal circumstances. The horsepower robbing carburetor restrictor plates used on each have an evening up effect on all cars and tend to cause the entire field to run in large packs. Those packs tend to create situations in which a large number of cars get caught up in an accident which may well take out several top contenders. So, there is often the chance of an upset taking place on these tracks.
The 2011 Daytona 500 will not only have the elements of restrictor plates and big pack racing but also the new element of a newly paved racing surface.
This past weekend’s test session at the Daytona International Speedway showed that the track is incredibly smooth and has a tremendous amount of grip. With that being the case, all cars should handle well and be drivable enough to win.
Before the repaving of the track in Daytona, handling was always a key factor in winning on the famed 2.5 mile track. The better handling cars typically separated themselves from the ill handling machines throughout the course of longer green flag runs. Thus, races in Daytona have been most often won by drivers from the so-called ‘power teams’ whose engineering departments build the best handling cars.
With the old bumps removed from the track’s surface and grip to be found in abundance, the issue of handling will be greatly negated. All that should be required to keep up with the leaders on this new asphalt is the ability and willingness to be pulled along in the draft.
What will be interesting to see is whether or not the smooth surface helps eliminate or create ‘The Big One’. It might be that the track is so smooth that cars will hold their line well enough to avoid one another. Or, it could be that drivers get such a feeling of comfort from the pavement that they become willing to take unnecessary risks which result in trouble.
Another factor to be considered that will help even the field in the Daytona 500 is that pit road will become less of determinant of who wins. Tires in the recent test showed very little wear which means pit crews will make less of a difference than before. Highly financed teams with well paid crew members tend to have the advantage when races come down to late pit stops. The fact that tires may not have to changed as often could negate that advantage.
And more, NASCAR has instituted the use of a new type of gas can for refueling the cars. This new can, similar to the one used in the Camping World Truck Series last year, will cause slightly slower stops as it will take longer for the can to empty. Speedy tire changers will have less of an impact than in previous years.
A new racing surface, better handling for everyone and an evening out on pit road combined with the old factors of restrictor plate racing could allow for anyone to win this race. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner may be one of those familiar names who is always thought of as a race favorite. Or, this year more than ever, there could be a chance for a relative unknown to steal the thunder of those drivers from the high profile teams.
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