Daytona’s Coke Zero 400 showed promise. Time and experience had improved the Nationwide race immensely so the Cup series should be just as good. Realistic expectation perhaps, but it didn’t come to pass.
[media-credit id=22 align=”alignright” width=”219″][/media-credit]All week drivers had been asked about the two car tango. There were many opinions and explanations on how it worked. Some liked it. Some didn’t. One of the biggest detractors of the tandem drafting was Dale Earnhardt Jr. “I’d rather have control of my own destiny and be able to go out there and race and just do my own work and worry about my own self. It’s really weird and kinda wrong on some levels to race that way and to think like you think. You take care of somebody and you feel this obligation to take care of them and then worry about having them take care of you and how that makes them feel. Been growing up all these years racin’ for number one-lookin’ out for number one. Doing my job. This is what I need to do. I need to do this to get up through the pack. This is how my car drives and now you are doing it so different. Your thought process and everything you think about during the race is nothing near that. It is just different and weird. It won’t be like that forever I assume and hopefully I am alive and still racin’ when it goes back to the way it was because I just really enjoy lookin’ out for number one, man. If you had a car that drive up through there and you were smart about drafting and knew what you were doing, you could make some cool things happen and that was pretty fun.”
Elliott Sadler says he likes the two car draft and offered this explanation, “I like the 2 car drafting that we do now and I’ll you the reason behind it. Drafting – restrictor plates – are a tough part of our sport. We hear drivers talk about it all the time. Old drafting where you have 40 cars in one bunch in one pile a lot of the finishes you got are out of your control. A lot of the wrecks you get in, everything really is determined by everyone else around you. We have a lot of those same factors in the 2 car draft. Where things can happen around you and catch in a wreck not of your doing. But with the 2 car tandem if you know what you’re doing as a drafting partner and you make the right decisions as a 2 car tandem you can work your way to the front and actually the pack will split up a little more so actually the big wreck has a little bit less chance of happening and as a driver that’s a good thing. But I do think it’s harder to draft this way.”
Both drivers were involved in huge last lap crashes of their respective races. The Sprint Cup race ended with two crashes on the white flag lap. The crashes took out 15 cars in the first and 18 cars in the final wreck just yards before the start finish line. This is significant when you remember that the starting field is 43 cars. Many of the cars that did finish were damaged from earlier wrecks in the event.
At some point words from the drivers and NASCAR start coming back to you. Words like cost containment measures, no down force, racing for track position, driver safety is a priority. At that point you begin making observations.
Let’s start with cost containment. NASCAR implemented the COT and eliminated testing as cost containment measure for teams. They did so in 2008. Let’s take a good look at this race and ask about the cost containment. 30 cars were involved in the last lap melee. Several more were damaged in the wrecks that happened before the white flag. Let’s break it down to teams. HMS lost 3 cars and damaged the fourth significantly. Joe Gibbs had damage to 2 out of the 3. RCR lost 2 out of 4 with damage to a 3rd. Roush Fenway, had significant damage to 2 out of the 4 but did win the race with a pristine car. Richard Petty Motorsports lost 1 and damaged a second. Red Bull lost 1 and damaged the other. Penske Racing seriously damaged both cars. Those are just the major teams. How cost effective is the decision to not make changes to the car? But even drivers do not believe there will be changes made. “I don’t think they’re going to address that to be honest with you. I think its goes against what they’re trying to do and we’re not turning each other around, the interface works really well and so well we can push.” Stated five time series champion Jimmie Johnson. But at what cost? How long will it be before a driver is seriously hurt?
NASCAR has stated since 2001, that driver safety is paramount and utmost on their list of priorities. Yet we still have not learned that three lap runs for the checkered flag on super speedways is always disastrous. In was disastrous in 1992 when Rusty Wallace took a wild ride through the tri-oval grass at Talladega. It was disastrous in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt lost his life in a turn 4 crash at Daytona. And it was disastrous in 2011 when 30 cars wrecked on the last lap of the Coke Zero 400. We lost a hero. We hurt another. We destroyed millions of dollars worth of equipment. What does it take for NASCAR to see that Green White Checker finishes don’t belong on restrictor plate tracks?
The COT’s safety systems have been tested and proven for sure. But they are not fail safe. The cage that surrounds the driver in the new car is stiffer and unyielding. This transfers more impact to the driver. “The driver compartment is stiffer and stronger than it has ever been before it’s going to absorb the impact far less even though we have some impact material and foam around the driver side,” stated Jeff Gordon. He did go on to add that he would not trade the safety measures for what they had before.
Injuries are not always obvious. In the case of Carl Edwards he lost a crush panel in front of the right rear wheel on his Subway Ford Fusion in an early race crash. After only a few laps on the track Edwards returned to the pits after becoming ill in the car from Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Edwards, who does not run a Koolbox system which would have provided him with a Carbon monoxide filter, did finish the race but was treated with Oxygen post race.
This race showed the instability in the cars. Numerous times we saw cars in tandem pairs be passed by another tandem and the pair be pulled apart as the side force of the cars was disrupted. The aero dynamic wave, if you will, caused the two cars to become unstable on the track with several cases of spins and wall contact resulting.
There is no doubt that this race was costly to teams. Thankfully there were no injuries. At least not physically but the financial injuries will take some of the smaller teams a great deal of time to recoup.
The cup race did not live up to its sister series race. It was a long fairly uninterrupted affair that saw teams dropping back and waiting to the very end to make a run for the front. Those were runs that simply didn’t happen. Some because the tandem was broken up by needed pit stops after the late caution that took pole sitter Mark Martin out of the race. Some because they had simply fallen too far back to make the run and then were caught in the final melees typical of Restrictor Plate racing. Sadly, there seems to be no hope of returning to the old school racing at Daytona or Talladega. But hopefully we will carry with us as a sport the lessons learned from this years Coke Zero Demolition Derby.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ * * * * ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Congratulations to TNT on a great broadcast with readable graphics and limited interruptions for commercials. This was definitely the best broadcast of the year.
Kudos to Wally Dallenbach and Kyle Petty for having the courage to get in to cars and demonstrate and describe what we were about to see even though they themselves had never done it before.
Congratulations to Joey Logano on his win in the Subway Jalapeno 250, and also to Kyle Busch for pushing him to that victory.
Congratulations to Danica Patrick for finally displaying the skills that all of her fans believed her to have in a stock car.
Congratulations to David Ragan on his victory in the Coke Zero 400 and also to Matt Kenseth for pushing him to that victory.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.