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NASCAR at Daytona: Handling, Larger Restrictor Plates and Fireworks at the Coke Zero 400

Several things are definite when the NASCAR Cup teams hit the track at Daytona this weekend; their cars will have to handle while the larger restrictor plates control the added horsepower before the fireworks go off. One thing isn’t so definite and that would be whether the fireworks will only be after the race… or during it.

Generally a restrictor plate super speedway is not a place where someone would take an opportunity to give a little payback, but this year… who knows. With the media constantly stirring the pot and giving multiple opportunities for the airing of frustrations and emotions, it is possible we could see a really big “big one” if someone decides to press the envelope of sensibility in the two and three wide tight packs associated with these type races. All it will take is someone not willing to give that extra inch which could make the difference between racing and wrecking.

In reality, I don’t really expect anything out of the ordinary to happen but, from this fan’s view, with the economy what it is, the competition as close as it has ever been and the teams trying their level bests to be in the Chase this year (or at the very least, show their sponsors they are worthy of their support), I’m not sure.

After watching the practice sessions though, it didn’t take this fan long to come to the conclusion that the additional horsepower from the larger restrictor plate openings was going to take a little getting used to from the drivers. The increased closing rate that has resulted from it has made more than one driver take notice, even if a little too late.

Now, with the rainout of qualifying, a new dimension is added to the mix. The field will line up according to points and, from what was evident from the cars that actually got to qualify, there are going to be some fast cars back in the pack at the beginning of the race. Usually that doesn’t matter in a restrictor plate race and I never put much stock in qualifying, but it does make me wonder.

I mean, in restrictor plate races, we often see some of the better cars applying the strategy of running in the back of the pack until the last hundred miles or so. Since they usually qualified in the middle or back of the pack anyway, it wasn’t unusual to see them trying to avoid trouble by running that way. That raises two questions:

  • First, will those that may have qualified up front be content to run in the back or will they try to muscle their way to the front early and try stay there?
  • Second, will it change the strategy of those that may have been planning to run in the back anyway and are now out front?

From this fan’s view, it should prove to be interesting and I don’t have the answers. I guess it will be just one more reason to watch the race from beginning to end.

I know I’m not the only one that’s noticed, but the speeds listed on the scoring pylon hardly ever tell the story about how the race is going to go. The idea that someone having one or two fast laps in practice gives us any insight as to who might win is slim indeed. From my view, restrictor plate races aren’t about running one or two fast laps, (unless it is with two or three to go.) It is more about being in position to use what ever slight advantage one may have at the right moment. Kevin Harvick proved that at Talladega earlier this year. (Yeah, I know Daytona isn’t Talladega and the two tracks are totally different but still, the point holds true; at either place a driver has to be in position to use what he has at the right moment.)

This Coke Zero 400 will be a different race at Daytona no matter how we look at it. The track is in its worst shape ever (and we all know they’re going to repave it after this weekend is over and before February). It has no grip and is rougher than many remember it ever being.

The additional horsepower from the larger restrictor plate, (most estimate as much as an added 40 hp over the last trip here), has caused all of the drivers to take notice. They love the response they get from their gas pedals, but so far, it has been more difficult for them to judge the closing rates and it has caused a few “situations”.

I have also heard more than one complaint of the cars being “twitchy” which means they are a bit unpredictable lap after lap. From a fan’s view, that means there could be more excitement than usual and possibly more than one bad move that ruins the night for a bunch of drivers (or in other words, a bunch of little ones that can add up to the same effect as “the Big One”.) Of course there is always the possibility of “The Big One” happening all at once and taking out half the field. (Geez, I hope not.)

So, who will win the Coke Zero 400? I’m not sure, but I do expect to see familiar faces running at the front. From where I sit, I expect the winner to come from the RCR teams, the EGR teams or the Hendrick or Hendrick associated teams. I could be totally surprised, but I’m just not seeing the winner coming from JGR or Roush.

As to which one of the drivers from those teams might actually win I’m not sure. Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton are all usually running strong near the end of restrictor plate races and Kurt Bush, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray are all capable and eager to win this year. Any one could come away with the win tonight at Daytona.

Hey, judging from his performance in the Nationwide race last night, I’m not even ruling out Dale Jr…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© July 2, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

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By Rusty Norman

Amateur writer, NASCAR Fan, musician and former local Stock Car racer.