This argument has been in the back of our minds for a few years now and always seems to get reignited every time we show up to Daytona or Talladega and rightly so. Fans and media alike debate which style of plate racing is better and opinions vary greatly. There is no correct answer obviously; only opinions formulated by observations and personal preference. The Nationwide races still play out using the tandem draft but the implementation of the Gen-6 in Cup has resulted in the abatement of tandems and a return to old school pack racing. Which one puts on a better show though?
I am ambivalent when it comes to the two-car tandem style of drafting. It’s incredible and breathtaking to watch but I believe constantly relying on another driver’s help and unable to race for the win without a dancing partner hurts the integrity of the race. Every driver has to rely on a “buddy” to get to the front and their fate is in the other driver’s hands at all times. They have little to no control over their own destiny and can’t do anything alone which isn’t how a race is supposed to work.
In NASCAR, there is a great disparity between the super teams and the single car operations but the the wonderful thing about tandems is that it levels the playing field. Everyone has an equal shot of leaving the track with the trophy in hand which heightens excitement going into the event; everyone loves an upset. Also, never do these tandem races produce a boring finish unless a caution flies on the final lap ending the party early. These races always seem to end in a photo finish and/or a shower of sparks. Cars are usually wrecking everywhere and drivers go full throttle through the carnage as they chase down that checkered flag hoping to emerge from the smoke unscathed which most do not.
The pack has been around since the day NASCAR decided to put restrictor plates on these cars and is a familiar sight at every Talladega and Daytona event. Like the tandem, luck plays a huge role in the outcome of the race but at least the drivers can make their own decisions without needing a wingman hanging with them at all times. The bad thing about pack racing is that when there is a wreck, a good chunk of the field gets taken out instantly. You definitely still see the “Big One” with the tandem but one and two car wrecks are the norm until the closing laps usually. With the pack, half the field may get wadded up 10 laps into the race which is bad for the fans and for the teams. The finishes are always intense but the race to the line in tandem races are even better most of the time.
In the end, both styles put on great shows but tandem drafting tends to be more exciting and lacks the calming point that pack racing produces when everyone settles down and gets into a single file line for 1/4 of the event. With that being said, the pack is a purer form of racing compared to the tandem draft so I’m happy that’s what we have in Cup right now. I do love the tandem though and it is awesome that we still have it in Nationwide races.
They both have some desirable qualities and some not so desirable ones. My favorite form of restrictor plate racing is actually a hybrid of both. I’m talking about big packs with some two-car tandems here and there but a partner isn’t a necessity. That’s what we saw at the end of Talladega this year with 20 cars fighting for the win in the end and out of nowhere, the Front-Row Motorsport teammates came tearing through the middle of the pack to steal the win in one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history. I’d like to see them be able to push on each other a little bit more though…a happy medium between full blown tandem drafting and no bump drafting whatsoever. No matter what your opinion may be, we can all agree that both the Nationwide and Cup race this weekend will provide us with some spectacular and crazy moments that will be talked about for years to come.
I’m interested in reading your opinion regarding which is better so feel free to express yourselves below!