Could Slam Drafting Be The Key To Daytona 500 Victory?

Drivers battle for position during the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (HHP/Jim Fluharty Photo)
Drivers battle for position during the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (HHP/Jim Fluharty Photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The art of slam drafting is back at the Daytona 500, according to seven-time NASCAR Series Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner and others are wondering if the current cars are strong enough to handle the hard impacts in the rear that are often used to move the line of cars forward in the race.

“As the plate racing continues to develop, I’m not sure it’s quite tandem, but the bump-drafting, the slam-drafting that’s taking place, that’s been probably my weak spot as the week started down here,” Johnson said. “It’s turned into one of our strengths, and we’ve kept the speed in the car.

“We’ve tried to exploit that area a bit more and it would be nice to have a bit more.”

Team owner Joe Gibbs has a powerful four-driver contingent that can win Sunday’s Daytona 500. That includes defending race winner Denny Hamlin, defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, last Sunday’s Busch Clash winner Erik Jones and 2017 Cup champion and two-time runner-up Martin Truex Jr.

Gibbs was asked by SPEED SPORT if he thinks the race will be filled with slam drafting and the potential dangers that creates.

“You’re really not sure until you get in the packs,” Gibbs said. “If you’ve watched us, we’ve stayed pretty much by ourselves, and you’re not making contact. Honestly, we were so worried about being in packs in practice. If you go back to other years, we’ve wrecked a lot of cars in practice, and so you’re leery of that.

“I think tomorrow, a lot of our drivers, and I hear the crew chiefs, we’re not quite sure until you get in that pack and you start moving around what’s going to happen.  I think that’s the reason why part of it, that this race is so unpredictable and exciting. I think we’re not going to really know until we get in there, but we feel like our cars are pretty good.  We qualified decent, wasn’t great, and so we’ll kind of see once we get going.

“We’ve been totally surprised in the past.  The best we ever qualified for this race, when we got to the race, we were not very good.  And so, it shows you you’re never quite sure, I think, until we get in a big pack and get moving out there.”

It is also the start of Johnson’s final full-time season as a driver in NASCAR and could ultimately be his final Daytona 500. The two-time Daytona 500 winner starts sixth in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

“I feel really good about it,” Johnson said. “We’ve had great speed in our 500 car. The first experience I’ve had with the new body, and all the Chevys did, was in the Clash and didn’t have the comfort that I was looking for in the car there.

“Since then, we’ve been making some great change and I felt like in the closing laps of Friday’s practice session, we really hit on what I was looking for; a great combination of speed and comfort.”

Sunday’s 62nd Daytona 500 is scheduled for a 3:18 p.m. Eastern Time start, weather permitting. There is a threat of rain in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, that is when the Daytona 500 will be contested.

President Donald J. Trump will be in attendance, becoming the third President to attend a race at Daytona Int’l Speedway and the second to attend the Daytona 500. The last was President George W. Bush in 2004.