New Rules But Business As Usual At Talladega
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Looks like you can remove one X-Factor from the X-Factor Chase race: The new rules which NASCAR instituted for Sunday’s race at Talladega have apparently changed nothing.
That was the word from drivers after a couple of Friday practice sessions for the Sprint Cup race.
“I didn’t see anything any different,” driver Tony Stewart said after getting out of his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet on Friday. “I think the temperatures, the water pressure, is what you are still focusing on right now. We have a cooler day than what we had here in the spring, so, it’s pretty similar right now because of the temperatures.”
NASCAR instituted new rules in its ongoing battle to keep things safe and interesting at the series’ biggest track. The rules were put into effect between the spring race this year and the current weekend, which will be highlighted by the sixth of 10 Chase playoff races.
The size of the air holes in the restrictor plates that teams are using have been increased by 1/64 inch and will provide the teams with an additional 7-10 horsepower.
Additionally, the pressure relief valve – or pop-off valve – on the cars’ cooling system will be re-calibrated to reduce the pressure by approximately 8 pounds per square inch from this
past April’s race at Talladega.
But Friday’s practices went much the same as things have on recent weekends on the high banks of the 2.66-mile track.
“It wasn’t much different except for we are all nervous about blowing water out of the radiator,” points leader Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing said. “None of us really know and I didn’t run mine until the valve popped off when I was pushing Greg. I think that is the big unknown right now. I think that will keep people from staying nose to tail for so long. I think you will see more switching and that is the only thing I can see from my seat. I can’t even see it from my seat they just told me to not let the thing build too much water pressure or we would be in trouble.”
A couple years back, it was big packs of cars running in close quarters at nearly 200 mph which made drivers nervous and some fans complain.
In recent years, with modification to the Cars of Tomorrow, it has been two-car, or tandem, racing which has resulted. And as a result of that, there have been more safety concerns from teams and drivers and more exciting racing concerns from fan.
The pop-off valve change, NASCAR apparently had hoped, would throw a curve at tandem racing.
One problem with racing in tandems is that the car doing the pushing does not get enough
air into the radiator and that can cause the engine to overhead. The new rule, it is hoped would force drivers to spend less time pushing the car in front in order to keep the engine cooler.
Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports thinks the rules may aggravated safety problems in the race.
“I think swapping (the lead to allows engine cooling) more causes more incidents and opportunities to really get in the back of one another because the closing rate is so fast, especially if guys start doing it in the middle of the pack and you can’t always choose when you do it,” Gordon said. “You’re engine gets hot and you cannot allow that pop off valve to go off so you have to switch and you have to do it right then and there could be six cars coming hard.
“That’s the part that I don’t necessarily agree with because I think that while we’re gonna take steps here towards not having the two-car draft working we’ve learned to much and we know that it works and we’re going to do everything we can to continue to make it work until we get to one other’s bumpers and we spin one another out, that’s when we stop doing it. Then we’ll still do it down the straightaway.”
NASCAR instituted another new mandate for the weekend as it banned teams from spreading lubricant on the rear bumpers of the cars.
Teams reacted swiftly, placing smooth sheets of material on the bumpers to reduce the friction from tandem hookups.
Edwards was asked about about the fan-enjoyment aspect of the tandem racing, which, apparently, will dominate Sunday’s race.
“I don’t know that there is a balance.” the Ford driver said. “I don’t know if these comments are politically correct or whatever but I feel like if the fans had never seen this type of racing,
if we had never started it, then people wouldn’t know that it could happen and maybe would be something we wouldn’t be so committed to, you know? I can only speak from my perspective and one of the worst feelings I ever had in a race car or involved in racing was after 2009 hearing that some fans had been hurt because of our wreck there coming to the start finish line. That scared me.
“Fortunately everybody was OK and everything worked out and all the safety stuff in place worked and went our way but that was a little wake-up call to me that this stuff is serious and you have to be careful and you can’t be passive on any of the safety stuff. I do believe that NASCAR recognizes all those same things. They couldn’t feel any better about that stuff than I did and I think they are doing everything they can to make this still fall under the level that you were talking about of, ‘Hey, we all felt like this is still OK and we are going to go race here and do our best.’ I just don’t know where that line is where we say, ‘Man, this is too much.’ I think if we went back to the pack that NASCAR would have to just slow it down more because then you don’t have as much chance for cars going airborne.
“You would still be clumped together and I think bigger risk for injury to the drivers but hey, we put on helmets when we go race and nobody forced us to get in those cars. At the end of the day I think our first obligation is protecting the fans and I think we are doing everything we can to do that. I still believe that two-car racing, being able to separate you from the pack is better and I enjoy it more. You are less at the mercy of others people’s mistakes or parts failures and you don’t have so many people going, ‘Hey, I just left my foot in it and drove through the wreck.’ You don’t have that going on around you.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org