By admin | February 16, 2011
By Richard Allen
Based on practice in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series’, this could be a record weekend for sheet metal carnage in Daytona. With new asphalt in place and a variety minor changes to the cars in both divisions, speeds are higher than has been the case in previous years. And more importantly, the style of racing has dramatically changed.
Both series’ have had laps in excess of 200mph to be posted so far in practice. But it isn’t the speed in and of itself that may cause problems. Trouble is, the closing rates are extreme. Rather than racing in huge bunches, drivers are finding more speed by drafting closely with one other car. Tight pairings of cars gain on the racers in front of them at previously unseen rates.
So far, it appears as though drivers are having difficulty adjusting to these closing rates as those being caught are having a hard time staying out of the way of those catching them. This was evidenced in Wednesday’s Sprint Cup practice when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin Truex came together in an incident that caused both drivers to unload backup cars.
The Earnhardt/Truex accident came when the two groups they were part of gained rapidly on another group. The leading cars appeared unsure as to which way to go in order to get out of the way. The result was two sliding cars that ended up with a great deal of damage.
Keep in mind, in practice the teams see to it that their cars are not grouped too tightly in large packs. On Thursday in the 150 mile qualifying races for the Sprint Cup cars, everyone will be in the same place at the same. With some gaining and some be gained on, this seems to offer a high probability for multiple collisions.
In commenting on the hazards of racing in Daytona after his practice crash Earnhardt said, “I’m going to tell you man, the odds of us wrecking in that qualifying race are probably better than us winning it.”
The Nationwide Series may be even more concerning than the Sprint Cup races. The speeds for the lower series are even faster than those of the top division. And to complicate matters even more, the drivers in the Nationwide Series are less experienced on the whole than their higher level counterparts.
Add to the lesser experience of the drivers, the noses and tails of Sprint Cup cars tend to be uniform and match up well with each other, the Nationwide cars have different noses and tails that do not always mesh neatly together. This, in turn, causes the trailing car to lift the leading car which obviously makes the front car very unstable.
Even veteran drivers such as Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne expressed concern over the situation during Wednesday’s Nationwide practice session.
NASCAR has responded to the high speeds in the Nationwide Series by issuing restrictor plates to be combined with the normally used tapered spaces. This, they hope, will slow speeds and reduce the closing rates.
There may well be other changes in store for both of NASCAR’s top divisions still to come. However, no matter what changes are made, it appears as though the new pavement and tweaks made to the bodies of the cars have dealt a hand that no one was really prepared for.
Based on practices and races held so far at the Daytona International Speedway, it appears as though the ingredients are in place for crash filled weekend. Perhaps if there is any bright side, it could be that there may not be a ‘Big One’ but rather more two car incidents.
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