Daytona Rear View Mirror
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on July 3, 2011 | 1:16 A.M. EST
Another restrictor-plate racing weekend has come and gone as usual there are those who love it and others who could not wait for it to end.
Since NASCAR strapped the first plate to a car nearly 30 years ago in an effort to slow things down and hopefully make racing at Daytona and Talladega safer, it has been a can of worms with no easy answers.
Now that the superspeedway-drafting phenomenon has morphed into the two-car train racing that was again on display at Daytona, it’s fragmented the fan base – as well as the garage area – even further.
Some fans now long for the days when 30-car packs were the plate racing norm while others have embraced the nose-to-tail two car style that has evolved from a combination of the next generation Sprint Cup car and new asphalt at both of NASCAR’s two biggest oval tracks.
Same with the drivers with a contingent feeling more control with the current style of racing with others actually missing the pack racing madness that had been part of the restrictor-plate landscape since the late 1980s.
I’m still not a major fan of watching pairs of cars scattered around the track as drivers bide their time until making a mad dash to the checkered flag.
However, those wild runs to the finish line have produced some of the most dramatic moments in recent NASCAR history even if getting there hasn’t been an artistic success.
Will plate racing return to the days of super-sized packs some day? Maybe as both tracks see their racing surfaces age and the high grip levels begin to disappear.
There’s also the question of just how the brand new Cup car slated to make its debut in 2013 will look and whether the front and rear bumpers line up as well as the current model.
But until bulldozers come into Daytona and Talladega to lower the banking at each of the mammoth tracks, plate racing of some form will be around.
So get used to it because I don’t see any heavy construction equipment in either track’s future.
- NASCAR’s inconsistency with caution flags made a major impact on Saturday night’s race. Jeff Gordon’s incredible save as he spun in a pack of cars racing through Turn 4 brought out the caution that set-up the first green-white-checkered finish. Despite many team’s radio communications expressing disbelief the yellow came out for a spin that did not appear to leave any debris on the track, officials slowed the race. That of course triggered the multi-car crash in the first overtime as the field was bunched up. But when a violent crash broke out behind the lead pack on what turned out to be the final lap, there again was no sign of caution despite cars running into each other at high speeds. It’s a problem that will continue to plague NASCAR with many fans until there is some rhyme or reason to when cautions should be displayed.
- The extreme heat and humidity (as well as persistent rain showers) around Daytona this time of year always raises the question of whether NASCAR would consider shifting the July 4th weekend date to another track and come back to Florida later in the year. Based on conversations with officials at the sanctioning body as well as the track I’d say the chances are slim. It would in a way make sense to run an early July date at a track perhaps in the north or midwest to take advantage of the weather conditions. But with one plate race already in the Chase a second at Daytona would most likely be the only reason NASCAR needs to not consider any such shift.
- Saturday night’s race began the “Race to the Chase,” or as officials of Richmond International Raceway have coined “The Road to Richmond” since the track will again host the final race of the regular season, which will decide this year’s Chase field. The new Wild card slots for 11th and 12th in the Chase field have brought a completely different slant to the run for a playoff berth. In past years nearly 80 percent of the Chase lineup was set by late April. Not so this season and the next three months should provide a lot of interest in following who will be in and out of the Chase picture by the time September rolls around.
- Those who don’t think Danica Patrick can contend in NASCAR with good equipment and a strong team are just flat wrong. Patrick nearly pulled off what would have been an historic win in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona. She ultimately was shuffled back in the field on the final lap and then swept up in the chain reaction crash that ended the race. But Patrick and JR Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola had the Daytona crowd on its feet when they drafted to the front. Patrick needs to just make the call once and for all that NASCAR is in her future and stop the tiresome guessing game she’s been playing for more than three years. She can succeed in stock cars and the sooner she focuses her effort on this discipline of racing full-time the better off she’ll be.