NASCAR makes changes to reduce speeds at Daytona
NASCAR waved a yellow caution flag Sunday, taking steps to slow
cars down a day after speeds topped 206 mph at Daytona
Officials might not be done, either.
The sport’s governing body made two technical changes in hopes
of limiting two-car hookups and high speeds before the
season-opening Daytona 500.
NASCAR told teams to add pressure-release valves to cooling
systems and reduce the size of grill openings. The changes should
limit the time two cars can run bumper to bumper around the 2
1/2-mile superspeedway. Drivers likely will need to break those
formations to avoid overheating engines.
The moves are expected to reduce speeds from those reached
during Saturday night’s exhibition Budweiser Shootout.
”The world’s not broken. We just want to tweak it a little
bit,” Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said.
The 75-lap Shootout featured a dramatically different style of
racing as drivers hooked up in pairs because it was the fastest way
around NASCAR’s most famous track. It was fast – Michael Waltrip
topped 206 mph – and a stark contrast from the previous tight pack
racing that fans have embraced at Daytona.
”It’s not necessarily an intention to break those up,” Darby
said. ”That’s a new tool that the competitors have in their pocket
that’s pretty doggone exciting. They can pass at will. They have
the ability to have some control over what’s going on around them.
So those aren’t bad things. This puts a duration limit on
And should slow everyone down.
NASCAR has made huge strides in safety since Dale Earnhardt’s
death at Daytona a decade ago. Still, the sport has seen
breathtaking crashes in recent years at Daytona and Talladega, the
fastest tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, and has worked to
eliminate cars taking flight.
”What we know is we can have good races at 100 mph and 200 mph
and everything in between,” Darby said. ”I think we can all
agree, from both the competitors and NASCAR, that 206 is probably a
little bit to the extreme side. So we’ll see what we can do to
cushion that some.”
Teams headed home Sunday night and planned to spend Monday and
Tuesday working on ways to best handle the changes.
”The speed’s the problem for everybody,” said Jimmy Makar,
vice president of Joe Gibbs Racing. ”We’re all a little nervous
about the speed. We don’t need to be running that fast for sure.
Some of that speed comes from the fact that you can sit there
behind guys and draft two by two and get that big run. The guys
that ran out front weren’t running those lap times. They were
reasonable lap times. The ones two or three sets back were able to
Teams developed the strategy during testing at Daytona in
December and January, realizing that the new pavement created an
ideal situation for bumper-to-bumper, two-car drafts that could
hook up and outrun any other formation.
Several drivers worked it to perfection in the Shootout, which
Kurt Busch won in a close finish.
”Maybe I’m in a little bit of denial, but I keep thinking
there’s no way we could do that for the whole race,” four-time
series champion Jeff Gordon said. ”I didn’t think we could do it
for the whole race (Saturday) night. We proved we could. I’m like,
‘How can we do it for 500 miles?”’
Teams proved they could do it for lengthy runs. But it remains
to be seen how the changes will affect the draft.
”You’re going to have to figure out how to get some air to cool
the car down, poke our nose out, back off a little bit,” Gordon
said. ”So as long as those bumpers line up and the airflow over
the cars is the way it is, I don’t think you’re going to stop
”The game has changed. That’s all I can say. You can’t take
knowledge and throw it away. Once you have it, you have it, you
maintain it, you apply it. No matter what changes from now, if
anything, to Sunday we’re still going to have that knowledge. We’ll
try to use it to our advantage.”
Cars will return to the track Wednesday, and if practice speeds
top 200 mph again, NASCAR could reduce the size of restrictor
plates. That would allow less air into the engine, reduce
horsepower and speed.
NASCAR officials could have change restrictor plates Sunday, but
since that’s the easiest way to slow cars down, they wanted to keep
that as a potential later tweak before Thursday’s qualifying races
for the Daytona 500.
”That’s always there,” Darby said. ”If drivers never pushed
each other, we’d be putting bigger plates on the cars. We may not
have to change the plate. That’s what we’ve got to watch on
Wednesday. That’s the simplest change we could make.”