I mentioned on Monday about how much time, energy and, quite frankly, money are put into the engines for our four restrictor-plate races.
We all know that an engine package at Daytona and Talladega can make a huge difference. As I said earlier in the week, when you find just a little bit in a restrictor-plate engine, that equates to a lot out on the racetrack. Seriously, for these engine guys, if they can find two or three horsepower in the off-season, they feel like they have conquered the world.
The old rule of thumb was eight to 10 horsepower was another one mile per hour which at a place like Daytona is two-tenths of a second. The current engine rules keep everybody across the board pretty tight and pretty close. What’s also interesting is that you can put the same engine in two different cars and you might see three to four tenths of a second difference. That’s even in today’s NASCAR with all the technology and tolerances of all cars being almost if not identical.
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Sometimes we understand it, but I think one thing that has not changed, despite all the technological advances in our sport, is that we really don’t understand why one speedway car is better than its identical brother. It can be something so subtle that we just can’t see or understand it. Maybe the body is mounted just a little bit different. When I say little, I’m only talking about thousands of an inch. I know it’s hard to grasp, but it can truly make a difference.
The other thing going on right now as teams prepare for Daytona is we are into something like our fifth year since the re-pavement of the track, and it’s starting to lose grip. So now the teams are starting to weigh out the drag versus downforce. The key is finding the balance. For example, when it comes to Daytona 500 qualifying Sunday Feb. 14 on FOX, you want as little drag as possible. You want that baby to be a bullet racing around the track.
A week later, however, on Sunday Feb. 21 when they run the Daytona 500 on FOX, you probably are going to want a little more downforce built into that car. So that’s the razor’s edge that these teams are walking on. It’s finding that balance of where you have a fast race car, but also a race car that handles well.
I sat down with a team a week or so ago and we figured up that these teams have nearly 60 days put into building a Daytona 500 car. Then there’s the gang in the engine room thrashing to find one, two or even three more horsepower for you. Then you get to the track and try to find the balance between speed and handling. Dialing it in is the key because like we’ve always said and will continue to say, once you get to Daytona and unload, you pretty much have what you have.