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Pedley: Some Racing Chases Will Never Be Won

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 17 2012

The Daytona 500 in 2008 featured the big packs of cars which now are so coveted by NASCAR officials. (NASCAR photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

This morning, as seagulls are picking through the infield leftovers at Daytona International Speedway, the rest of us are left to conduct some searches of our own. Not for half-eaten sausages or dried out french fries, but for answers. Answers to questions like: Where are we vis a vis restrictor plate racing and how did we get here?

NASCAR and its competitors just completed three days of testing at Daytona. The focus of it all was to come up with a rules package which would make for what the consensus would consider to be “better” racing in next month’s 500.

That is, the focus was to come up with a way to dump the tandem racing which some say has ruined the racing at Daytona and Talladega the last couple of years.

NASCAR officials showed up at Daytona last Thursday with a huge stack of restrictor plates. Drilled into those plates were varying sized holes. The plate openings were bigger, smaller and about the same size as those which were on the cars a year ago in the 500. Officials want to see the effects of more power, less power and similar power.

Also on the cars at Daytona were smaller rear blade spoilers and tumorous looking shark fins as NASCAR wanted to play with the aerodynamics of the cars.

The officials also had mandated a series of changes to the cars’ cooling systems in the weeks leading up to the test. Radiator sizes, fill capacities, grille openings, pop-off valves all were the objects of fiddling

Last week's Sprint Cup test featured the look of Sprint Cup racing at Daytona from years past. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

and fussing.

Also attacked was the system of unlimited inter-car communication that  had allowed drivers to talk to dozens of other drivers during the race and which some think, made the on-track competition just a bit too cozy.

All of the measures took dead aim at the tandem racing which seemed not to hand races to neither the swift nor the smart, but to whoever the hell it was who was who happened to be in second place 100 yards from the finish line.

Tandem racing, that is, had become more akin to a lottery than tests of skill and machinery.

Oddly, the hope of the three-day test was to somehow force a return to the plate racing of five years ago. Racing in which huge packs of cars bounced along like a bushel of apples dumped into a jacuzzi. Racing whose primary attraction seemed to hinge around when and where big wrecks would occur and, how many and which cars would be wadded up and carted off.

The goal of returning to those golden days of racing seems curious because at the time, NASCAR was trying like crazy to return to the golden days of slingshot racing. Remember roof vanes?

NASCAR was trying like crazy, five years ago, to eliminate the big pack which some fans loved and almost all drivers/teams hated. At the times, big-pack racing at plate tracks was the hideous freak which the purists views as scar tissue on the schedule.

There now seems to be a segment of the NASCAR community which thinks higher speeds may be the answer to the plate racing dilemma. Open up the plate holes (remove the things all together?) and let the drivers have at it. That, perhaps, would solve the closing-speed problems which some think are the main source of danger.

For some at Daytona last week, 200 mph went from being a red flag to a minimum velocity.

All of this roiled around the skull as the primer-gray Sprint Cup cars took laps at Daytona last week. Can any of these measure solve the problem – perceived or real – of hinky racing? Can they return racing to the time when the on-track competition was so much better?

Easy answer: No.

Racing is the ultimate venue of sports evolution. It’s a continual joust of rules vs. mechanical innovation vs. revamped rules vs. innovative thinking.

See, in racing, there is no returning to the past. There is only the way that racing is right now.

As NASCAR officials are sitting around conference tables at the Research and Development facility in North Carolina right now pondering their next moves, so too are engineers sitting around conference tables at team campuses planning their next moves.

And on and on it will go, the chase for stability in racing.

It’s not a problem that afflicts racing. It’s the beauty of the sport.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 17 2012
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