NASCAR teams worry about blown engines at Daytona

Bill Elliott has been racing at Daytona since the 1970s, and he

has never seen this level of cooperation among so many different

drivers and their spotters.

It’s out of necessity.

If drivers hooked up in the two-car drafts that have dominated

Speedweeks don’t work well together in Sunday’s Daytona 500, there

could be a bunch of blown engines.

NASCAR officials have taken steps to limit speeds at Daytona

that included restrictions on how teams cool their engines – an

attempt to keep them from spending too much time working together

in the tandem drafts that were leading to speeds over 200 mph.

”You know, the bad thing about it is you don’t know what the

limit is,” Elliott said. ”The guys tell you you’re kind of

shooting for this range, but give or take 10 degrees or so one way

or the other. We just try to monitor it and say, ‘Look, I say to

the spotter, we got a quarter of a lap to go, I got to make it

work.’ It’s been the most communication between so many different

spotters than I’ve ever seen in any previous Daytona 500 or any

Daytona event.”

During Thursday’s qualifying races, drivers in drafting duos

switched spots after a handful of laps so the driver doing the

pushing could take a turn in front and get more air to his engine’s

radiator. That requires cooperation between the drivers and their

spotters.

If a pushing car stays in back for too long, it could

overheat.

”I don’t know what the breaking point is,” said Steve

Addington, crew chief for Kurt Busch’s No. 22 car. ”I’m afraid

that some of these guys are going to find out.”

The driver doing the pushing already has his hands full, keeping

his bumper stuck to the car in front of him and anticipating the

leading driver’s next move while simultaneously monitoring the

mirror to see what’s coming up behind them.

Now, he has to keep an eye on the water temperature gauge.

”You have to keep track of the guy in front of you, you have to

absorb if he’s coming up on a pack, stay with him, not give him too

hard of a push in a sense,” Busch said. ”At the same time, you

have to keep peeking that grill out to keep it cool if you want to

stay attached.”

Addington expects drivers and teams to play it smart on

Sunday.

”You’re going to have to back out of it, pay attention to your

water temps and back out of the situations,” Addington said. ”You

have to be there at the end to finish this deal. Trying to take the

lead at lap 100, burning the car up, it’s not worth it.”

Of course, drivers are likely to gamble with their temperatures

at the end of the race.

”You just get to a point, you’re going to try to push a little

bit more,” Elliott said.

MICHAEL MAKES IT: By finishing third in the second qualifying

race Thursday, two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip will

start the race for the 25th straight time.

Waltrip has been emotional all week about the 10-year

anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death at Daytona, a race Waltrip

won but couldn’t ever really celebrate.

”Most of the time I’m all right,” Waltrip said. ”(Ken)

Schrader came over today. We can’t look at each other without

crying about it. We were probably the two, other than Dale Jr.,

drivers that were as closely tied to the events of that day than

anyone. We cry a lot.”

YELEY’S RECOVERY: J.J. Yeley made the Daytona 500 field

Thursday, taking another step in his return to racing after

sustaining a serious neck injury at a short track race in 2009.

”It’s been a long road back,” Yeley said. ”I took that nasty

flip there in a sprint car, pinched two vertebrae in my neck that I

had to have fused in September. It took about eight months to where

they were going to clear me and do the rehabilitation to where I

was safe getting behind the wheel.”

At times, Yeley has worried he was falling off the NASCAR

radar.

”Obviously in this sport, if you’re not in clear view, you can

easily get forgotten,” Yeley said. ”That’s what I started to feel

like. You roll through the garage, people would look at you with a

second glance. It was that quick that you could be forgotten.”

SPARK PLUGS: Ford drivers seemed to be able to run longer as the

pushing car without overheating problems. ”The cooling system

works well and I think we’re going to be good,” Carl Edwards said.

”It’s going to be an all-day, whose car can last longest, whose

engine is the strongest and which drivers can work together the

best – I think that’s going to win it, and I feel like we’ve got a

good enough team to do that.” … Jeff Gordon damaged his car in

the second qualifying race, but the team expects to fix the primary

car instead of going to a backup. … Waltrip said NASCAR’s

attempts to break up the Daytona drafting tandems with rules

changes were having limited success. ”I don’t think NASCAR’s rule

change with the radiators and stuff accomplished quite what they

hoped,” Waltrip said. ”Might have got close.”