DAYTONA BEACH Fla. – Anyone tuning in to Saturday nights Bud Shootout witnessed several things that haven’t been seen in NASCAR is awhile.
A pack of NASCAR Sprint Cup cars racing at Daytona International Speedway has been a rare sight in the last few years. Since the track was repaved, the preferred way to go fast at Daytona has been two car tandems. While these two car tandems were fast, complaints from fans and from some drivers caused NASCAR to take a look at the phenomenon.
The sanctioning body worked over the last year to come up with rule changes that would help eliminate the two car pairings and force drivers to pack race, not unlike what was seen only a few years ago.
Saturday night was the first real test under race conditions. The pack it seems is back. The two car tandems were nearly non-existent and most of the racing was done in packs. It was an edge of your seat affair that seemed to cause a tension that was nearly felt hanging in the air. But with the return of the packs like the days of old, the aftermath of a slight mistake by a driver also returned. Once known as the ‘big one’ multi-car crashes were once almost expected when the racing was at Talladega or Daytona. With the two car drafting, the multi-car crashes were rare; Saturday night they seemed to be the norm.
So has NASCAR gone too far? And can fans expect the same kind of racing in Sunday’s 54th running of the Great American Race the Daytona 500?
No, at least according to 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, and Saturday nights runner up, Tony Stewart.
“Do you have any better ideas?” Stewart quipped after I asked him if this Sunday’s race might feature as much carnage as Saturday night. “I think everybody’s always open. NASCAR asked the teams and the drivers what we could do to make it better.”
“My point is this is better than having to sit there and stare at the back of a spoiler for 500 miles and not be able to see where you’re going half the race,” he added. “We had control of what lane we got to run in. We got to move whenever we wanted. You didn’t have to not move because you had a guy behind you that you had to rely on making your decision on what he had to do also. We had more control as drivers today.”
As for the crashes Stewart said those are something always present at the superspeedways.
“Look at the history of this race,” Stewart said. “They always crash here. Go to Talladega, they crash cars there. It’s a yard sale every time we go to a restrictor plate track. I don’t know what you guys want. Everybody complained about the two car stuff. Now we got this today, and it’s better. We’re telling you it’s better.”
Stewart was adamant that Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be different then this past Saturday’s race.
“It’s not that bad,” Stewart said. “It’s the Bud Shootout. Everybody pushes the envelope. Everybody tries to see what that limit is, what that boundary is. When it comes to Sunday, you have to race 500 miles, you have to make it last till the end. It’s not that they’re not conscious of the fact you have to make it to lap 75, but you have the flexibility of not worrying about points standings and not worrying about the 500 title, losing it if you make a mistake tonight.”
Stewart explained that the Shootout is actually a great place to test.
“The competition is so tight, you have to try things,” he said. “If you don’t, somebody else is and they’re going to learn from it whether it’s right, wrong or indifferent. You had to be aggressive and you had to see what you can get away with. You have to try things. It’s a great opportunity for trial and error.”
In the end Stewart said it’s all about finding the edge over the competition.
“As you saw, it worked out sometimes and it didn’t work out a lot of times.” Stewart said. “The guys that crashed, it didn’t work out, there’s something they took away from it and said, That didn’t work out so well. Just like (Friday) night when I crashed Kurt, that wasn’t even close to what I had in mind for practice, but that’s what happened. It’s part of the trial and error process. You have to go through that.”
“43 cars can win this race (Sunday),” he added. “If you don’t push yourself into figuring out what you can or can’t do, I would rather do it with my Shootout car than I would with my 500 car.”
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