Fan Perspective: Observations After The “Big One”

Dale Earnhardt leads a pack of cars at DaytonaPhoto - Jared Tilton/Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr leads a pack of cars at Daytona
Photo – Jared Tilton/Getty Images

By Jordan Dodson

Sprint Cup teams have been testing at Daytona International Speedway the past couple of days. And with the new Generation Six car, teams were hard at work understanding the car. But one of the biggest thing fans want to know, will we see pack racing at restrictor-plate races in 2013?

Short answer, yes with the twist of a new bumper.

The new cars that we will see this upcoming season all look great. But with more brand identity among manufacturers, comes three different bumpers. Along with that is something drivers have not had to worry about for the past five years, bump drafting. Before this season, all cars ran the same templates allowing everyone’s bumpers to line up. This helped lend its hand to the dreaded tandem racing that many fans complained about.

But now that NASCAR has found a way to bring back pack racing, three different bumpers may make it harder for bump drafting, a staple of pack racing. And we saw an example of this Friday as drivers tested for the first time in a pack of cars.

As teams drafted at Daytona in a pack for the first with the new car, drivers found it hard to push fellow competitors. The new cars have front bumpers that are more similar to manufacturer’s street cars. Therefore the new stock cars have curved bumpers that resemble each manufacturer’s different front end. That makes it harder for drivers to bump draft without spinning each other out.

Brad Keselowski gets caught up in a ten car wreck Friday Photo - speedtv.com

Brad Keselowski gets caught up in a ten car wreck Friday
Photo – speedtv.com

We saw an example of this Friday when Dale Earnhardt Jr. tried to push Marcos Ambrose off turn two but turned him into the outside wall. The contact eventually led to a ten car pile-up, sending many teams home early from Daytona.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s reaction, “We got off the back straightaway and was pushing along there and our cars didn’t match up very well.” Earnhardt added, “I didn’t have any problem with any other cars but that was the first time where I pushed a Ford.”

So what does this mean for Daytona Speedweeks in February – wrecks, passing, or single-file racing?

Things could get interesting to say the least. Drivers had a hard time running up right behind fellow cars due to the smaller spoiler, creating air bubbles behind the car.

When drivers were able to get behind a car, they have to be on the wheel. Drivers have to focus on lining up bumpers so not to spin the car in front. The shorter spoiler leads to less down force and less rear-end grip. This also means less control and a loose feeling for the driver.

I can’t imagine seeing tandem racing in February because of the difficulty of bump drafting. What I do see is pack racing with lots of give-and-take, very little bump drafting and drivers having more control of their own destiny.

Expect close racing and drivers making a move to the lead, by themselves, throughout Daytona Speedweeks.

NASCAR Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton, and the sanctioning body did not approve the bumpers of the Generation Six car made by the manufactures. Pemberton said, “You test for a lot of different reasons so if that’s the case that you can’t push, then don’t push.”

But with everything being said, what teams learned today could all change as NASCAR can make new rule changes as they see fit. We saw this last year when NASCAR made changes to the restrictor-plate size and adjusting the rear-end bumper before the Daytona 500.

So far Pemberton says NASCAR is happy with what they have seen and are not planning any changes at this point. Pemberton did say drivers may need to be “retrained” when it comes to racing with the new car at plate tracks given that the Generation Six car seems to create a different type of pack racing than in the past.

The true test will be when all 43 cars will be on the track for the Daytona 500 on February 24th. The car acts different in a four-car draft than a 20-car draft. The speeds are also higher in racing conditions. Bump drafting may not play the role fans are used to seeing. But at the end of the day, people will be happy when they see pack racing for all 500 miles.

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