If you’re a fan of pack racing at the super speedways, and have a decidedly nefarious opinion of the two-car tandem racing style displayed during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, you’re probably wondering, “what took you so long, NASCAR”? Many fans stopped watching the races at Daytona andTalladega because they knew only the last few laps would decide the winner. NASCAR officials said earlier this month that more than 80 percent of fans polled “hated” the two-car tandem style of racing that had taken over at Daytona andTalladega. Such a strong opinion forced NASCAR to spend a significant amount of time redesigning the rules package in an effort to renew pack racing before the Feb. 26 opener.
The Budweiser Shootout proved NASCAR made the right moves, and the drivers seemed overwhelmingly in favor of the racing.
“It’s pretty wild and crazy, but, I mean, I like this better than what we had last year, definitely,” said four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who rolled his car several times and wound up on his roof for what he said was the first time in his NASCAR career.
After 2 years of tandem racing at Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR’s new rules package makes it more difficult for drivers to push draft each other for extended periods of time since the size of the radiators have been downsized from five gallons to two gallons and accumulators (overflow cans) have been reduced from one gallon to a half-gallon. Teams will also race with a smaller rear spoiler, softer springs, and a slightly larger restrictor plate. In addition, radio communications between drivers has been shut down to prevent them from cutting deals – a common occurrence during the tandem craze last season.
Still, drivers just got used to the 2-car tandem style of racing when NASCAR seemingly shifted gears again to eliminate it. Tony Stewart provided a long answer that included his contention that pack racing is better than staring at the back of a spoiler for 500 miles and not being able to see where you’re going half the race, as is the case with tandem racing.
“Besides” , he said, “Look at the history of this race. They always crash here. Go toTalladega, they crash cars there. It’s a yard sale every time we go to a restrictor plate track. I don’t know what you guys want. Everybody complained about the two-car stuff. Now we got this today, and it’s better. We’re telling you it’s better. You guys are like, Is it going to be that bad next week?”
During Saturday’s Shootout, the drivers appeared more confident and in control of their cars, even while on the verge of wrecking. Like most race fans, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was impressed by the masterful skills exhibited by Shootout winner, Kyle Busch.
“It was amazing some of the saves he did,” Earnhardt said of Busch. “He should go back there (in the garage) and give his track bar a high-five because the track bar mount saved his tail on a few of those deals. It was pretty awesome what he did, and to come back after all the things he went through to win the race was pretty spectacular.”
“It was a great race because of the way Kyle won it and because of the style of racing we had in there. It was a lot of fun. It was fun to be able to get offensive and go up there and try to take the lead. I think the fans really enjoyed all the lead changes we had (26 in 82 laps) and everybody out there being able to work on their own deal and not having to have a partner to make something happen.”
Not ironically, the 2-car tandem is what propelled Busch to his win on Saturday as he connected with Tony Stewart and pushed him to within yards of the start-finish line before he pulled the classic sling-shot move to pull out and pass Stewart to take the checkered flag.
The 2-car tandem will probably also determine the winner of this year’s Daytona 500.
Either way, pile-ups are bound to happen. And the drivers seem to be happy about having more options on the racetrack since the return of pack racing. So if the Budweiser Shootout was any indication of the way these drivers like to display their skills at pack racing, we should just hold on tight and enjoy the ride!
Jeff Gordon’s quote: Star Tribune
Dale Earnhardt Jr. quote comes from Fox Sports TV.
Tony Stewart‘s quotes come from the NASCAR Media website, which provided a transcript of his interview.