Barring shift, cars intact for Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Barring a major shift from what was seen in Thursday's two qualifying races, NASCAR doesn't plan any additional changes to the Sprint Cup cars before the Daytona 500, series director John Darby said Friday.
"You never want to say no, we're not going to do any changes. If somebody is holding onto something and we get a group in practice on Saturday and it gets really nuts, we'll look at it," Darby said.
"Typically, we won't drop ourselves into a box until we drop the green flag on Sunday. But no changes are planned."
Since Saturday's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, where cars reached speeds of 206 mph, NASCAR has gone to a smaller restrictor plate hole, reduced the opening in the front grill and mandated a lower radiator pressure to slow the cars.
The latter two changes were made so engines would overheat faster, forcing drivers in a two-car tandem that created the high speeds to swap places more often and slow down the cars.
Darby said the average speed Thursday was between 191 mph and 195 mph, with speeds nudging just past 200 in crunch time.
For the most part, he said, the tandems were forced to switch every three to five laps, which results in a drop in speed of between 15 mph and 20 mph. Darby wasn't concerned that the pushing car in the tandems for several teams stayed together longer, primarily the Fords of Roush Fenway Racing and Trevor Bayne for the Wood Brothers.
Bayne pushed Jeff Gordon from the first lap until he crashed on the final lap of the 60-lap race.
"Every time they did that, that's five miles per hour off the stopwatch," Darby said. "We studied that pretty closely. The [Greg Biffle-Carl Edwards] tandem every lap from the entrance of the tri-oval to Turn 1, whoever was in the back was two feet outside the car as they came through the tri-oval.
"The benefit to NASCAR is every time somebody peaks out, the speedometer goes backward."
Darby anticipates that racing and strategy will change in Sunday's Daytona 500, with 43 cars on the track for the first time.
"You'll have more tandems at one time and ultimately you're going to have a much larger group of a pack," he said. "The more cars that are in a pack, the faster they'll run. So the difference in speed from the guys doing the tandem to the rest of the field will be less.
"You'll have all the ingredients that you want. You'll have tandems that will have the ability to pass pretty much at will and when they choose. You'll also have strategists who will make sure they're around for that shootout in the last 25 miles."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2011 Daytona 500
The 53rd running of the Daytona 500 is on the horizon, with a new racing surface greeting competitors heading into a new season of hope. It all begins Feb. 20 at Daytona International Speedway.