Nascar Racing

Daytona, Restrictor Plates and Pack Racing from a NASCAR Fan’s View


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It’s different in Daytona during the summer… It’s hot and humid and, when the NASCAR teams show up, it’s loud and noisy. Fortunately, for the Coke Zero 400, they race at night so that minimizes the effect of the hot summer sun but the track is much different than it is in February. In February it is cooler and much less humid and the track has much more grip. When it comes to July, all of the things about summer in Florida come into play. We’ve already mentioned the humidity and of course that summer is much warmer than February (generally speaking) and the effect the sun, heat and humidity has on the track means it’s much more slick so the grip is down.

As has been the case all year long, with the new rules package that NASCAR introduced with more down-force and other changes, the teams are making the most of that added grip level and overall, the speeds are even faster than they’ve been in the past. One has to wonder if it weren’t for those restrictor plates just how fast a 3400 pound stock cars could go on the super speedway at Daytona.

Even though they only completed the first of the three planned qualifying sessions before the rains came Friday afternoon, because of the new qualifying procedure, the one completed session became the official qualifying lineup for the start of Saturday night’s race. From this fan’s view, that is one of the better advantages of the new qualifying procedure and I’m not the only one that feels that way. It was also very interesting to see some of the strategies playing out as they went through the qualifying session and even observing the strategies being developed during the practice sessions. When all was said and done it was evident that the plans and strategies the teams had come up with for qualifying, for some it worked and for others it didn’t.

I know I’ve said this before but I really like restrictor plate racing on the super speedways if for no other reason than the pack racing. Not that long ago the two-car tandem (or the two-car draft) was popular because it was the fastest way around the track. NASCAR, in its infinite wisdom (and its concern for the fans) made changes to the opening to the radiators so that time spent drafting like that would be limited. In all honesty, I have to say this fan was never a fan of the two-car tandem although it did make for some interesting races.

Before we had the new car and before we had the two-car draft I liked the fact that we would see two and three wide racing in a very large pack, lap after lap, and never knowing when the “big one” might happen. Although I know we can’t go back to those days, I do know that the racing these days (and the racing that will take place tonight at Daytona) will be similar to that and yet different at the same time. Tonight might be where teams (I mean full teams like Hendrick, Stewart-Haas, Roush, Childers and the rest) may decide to stick together so they can make more speed. It should prove to be interesting, whatever the case.

It is my opinion that short track racing is so popular because of the closeness of the racing. That also applies, at least somewhat, to the super speedways – close racing draws attention to itself. Although it is obvious that the drivers do fall into line just to kill off some laps these days, they do “get after it” on a regular basis during the super speedway races and make it more interesting than it used to be when they would just drive lap after lap in single file until the last 25 laps or so.

I know I speak for myself, but I also know I speak for others that have driven their local short tracks on Saturday nights, that some of the most interesting races I’ve ever been in were those that the race lineups turned out in such a way and we could run many laps bumper-to-bumper and door handle to door handle in a very tight pack. I know from inside the car that tight pack racing is intense but also very enjoyable for the drivers. Now that may only hold true on short tracks and I’m sure that the NASCAR Sprint cup drivers will tell you that it’s more stressful than it is anything else. I do know that when we had those type packs on the short tracks on Saturday night, the fans really got into it and the roar of the crowd at the end of the race was something that could be heard above the roar of the engines very easily.

The thing about restrictor plate racing at Daytona (and Talladega for that matter) is that if you start the race you have as good a chance as anyone to end up in Victory Lane. Some even call the restrictor plate tracks the great equalizers because no one knows who is going to make the right move to end up out front at the right time for the checkered flag to drop. I know in tonight’s race there are many that would like nothing better than to see Dale Jr., come home the winner. Even though his chances are as good as anyone’s, in particular because he’s running Hendrick horsepower and equipment, there’s no guarantee he will even finish the race and that goes for just about anyone that starts the race.

Several things are obvious for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona tonight and week to week in NASCAR these things hardly ever change. It is important that the pit crews make no mistakes during the pit stops, the drivers make no mistakes when entering or exiting pit road and that the crew Chiefs have a strategy that can put their driver in Victory Lane.

There is no doubt that strategy will play the biggest role in tonight’s race but patience on the drivers part will also play a big role. It is this fan’s hope that there won’t be “the big one” and that the field runs most of the night in a tight pack, two and three wide for most of the race. Of course, this fan also realizes that the likelihood of running 160 laps at Daytona in a restrictor plate race and full of door handle to door handle and bumper-to-bumper racing going off without “the big one” is small…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© July 5, 2014 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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By Rusty Norman

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