Teams and manufacturers will need to work together in order to be successful in Sunday’s 61st running of the Daytona 500.
The nature of restrictor plate racing and the nuances of drafting demands drivers to have help maneuvering their way through the field. Pulling out of line and losing the draft without the assistance of others is a sure fire way for a driver to dramatically fall back in the running order.
Last fall’s Talladega race was a textbook example of how teams come in with a plan then execute it to its fullest when the four Stewart-Haas racing drivers dominated the race running upfront.
From a shear numbers standpoint, the Ford camp is in great shape with Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Penske, Wood Brothers Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Front Row Motorsports and Go Fas Racing accounting for 14 entries alone in Sunday’s race. Ford drivers also finished 1-2-3 in both Gander RV Duel qualifying races. Chevrolet also has a healthy presence that includes Hendrick Motorsports, which has thetwo cars on the front row with William Byron and Alex Bowman. In total, Chevrolet has 20 cars in the field and five starting in the top 15.
Toyota is at the bottom of the list as Joe Gibbs Racing, Leavine Family Racing and Gaunt Brothers Racing account for just six drivers total. Already some see the manufacturer group behind the eight ball.
“For sure, we’re at a disadvantage now just based on pure numbers,” said new JGR driver Martin Truex Jr. “The Fords especially have been really fast at the plate tracks the last couple of years with this particular package and now there’s so many of them that they’re all really competitive.
“They’re all really good at this type of racing with the stuff they’re running. The engines, everything about it I guess. They just have a good package for here. It’s difficult to deal with that. They’re not always all together, but when they are, they’re tough to handle.”
Kurt Busch is another new driver with a different team this year as he moves from the SHR organization and Ford to CGR and Chevrolet. Like Truex Jr., Busch acknowledges how well the Ford teams work together on track and is a bit concerned about trying to keep up on Sunday.
“I tried to express some of that concern to Chevrolet, how the Fords put that effort forth at 100% level to work together as much as they can,” Busch explained. “Penske, it’s not just two guys, they have four. That’s somewhat not thought of in the proper way. They have four strong cars. SHR, four strong ones. The Roush cars are always good. Then you have the Front Row Motorsports guy that get the A engines from Yates for the restrictor plates.
“A lot of Fords out there. The Chevys are outnumbered in that sense. Yes, we do need to work together the best we can to win in numbers and have that percentage chance when it comes down to the end on getting a bowtie in Victory Lane.”
While there hasn’t been discussion of the Chevrolet group having a plan in place, one driver believes it’s more than necessary.
“Yeah, I mean, if we get our tails kicked in like we did at Talladega, it’s going to look bad,” said RCR’s Austin Dillon. “But Daytona is a little bit different I feel like in the fact that handling is more in play, more often, where four cars getting in a line, the second and the third car in line probably aren’t going to handle as good, unless you’ve done a really good job on your homework.
“It’s hard to get everybody up there. What they did was so impressive. Their cars were unreal. They just led the whole race.”
But while the other two stables are scratching their heads on how to join forces within their manufacturer groups, there is an understandable air of confidence around the Ford bunch.
“We have cars that are fast down here,” said SHR team co-owner Tony Stewart. “I think we all learned last year, especially at the restrictor-plate tracks, when we get these Ford teams together, it’s really hard to handle all of us if we’re working together.
“We all want to win the race at the end of the day, but if we’re racing each other at the end of the day, it’s a lot better scenario than racing the entire field. Excited about what we’ve got to look forward to this year.”