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Swap ‘Til You Drop Will Be Key Strategy In The 500

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 17 2011

Swapping leads by those participating in two-car drafts have redefined racing at Datyona International Speedway this Speedweeks. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Daytona Beach, Fla. – The two-car tango is still dominating the debate at Daytona, and now after Thursday’s Gatorade Duels, there’s a new term and a new strategy to study.

Veteran Bill Elliott, in the media center after racing his way into the 500 – even though he could have gotten in via his qualifying speed – stressed that “The Swap” has become the critical move in the two-car tango.

Elliott explained that the key to maintaining a spot at the front of the pack is for two drivers to quickly swap positions when the pushing driver’s car starts to overheat.

“Most of the guys that ran extremely well when we were testing here a month or so ago were able to do the swap fast and work very well together,” he said. “That’s the key to breaking away and doing what you need to do on that side.”

Elliott, now driving the No. 09 for Phoenix Racing after a career spent mostly behind the wheel of Fords and Dodges, said he expects that when the Daytona 500 gets under way, there will be several packs of two driving away from the rest of the field.

“I still say you’re going to see several groups of cars kind of run away from everybody else,” he said. “That’s the MO. Everybody else is going to have a harder time swapping.”

Elliott said the difficulty of swapping in a crowd will make it tough for drivers in the back to break free of the group.

“The problem I see, if when you get farther back in the field, it’s harder to make a clean swap with

Bill Elliott hugs the yellow line at Daytona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

more cars around you… because then you’ve got a couple more groups or two around you,” he said. “You might not have to swap at the right time.  You might have to breathe your motor a little bit and stay behind the guy, then it just costs you more time.”

Elliott and J.J. Yeley, who also raced his way into the 500 via the first Duel, pointed out that the two-car draft is so important that there will be one odd-man out come Sunday since there are an odd number of drivers in the field.

“Put 43 cars out there, at that rate, there’s going to be one left out by himself,” Elliott said.

Yeley and Elliott said drivers will be attempting to make deals in the motorcoach lot and in the garage before the race, but the true pairings won’t become evident until the green flag is flying.

Elliott and Bobby Labonte and their crew chiefs met for a time Thursday morning, planning out a strategy in which they’d work together.

But the old saying about the best laid plans never seeming to work out came true for them.

“Bobby Labonte and I tried talking about working together and we never did, up to the last lap of the race,” he said, adding that Brian Vickers came along and the two of them paired up.

“He and I worked decently together,” Elliott said. “We had our times.”

Elliott and Vickers intended to pit together, but missed each others cues.

“That’s where that little bit of communication makes all the difference in the world and gets that timing down right,” Elliott said.

But sometimes, he said, you just have to push down the pedal on the right and hope for the best.

“By gosh, just go do it,” he said.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 17 2011
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