DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Welcome to another NASCAR season, where fans are already complaining about boring, single-file racing that features lack of passing.
All that and the green flag for the first official race of the season hasn’t even waved yet.
Because of the current rules package being used at this year’s Daytona 500 – the last race that will use a restrictor plate to reduce air intake and horsepower – the three preliminary Monster Energy Cup Series races held this week at Daytona Int’l Speedway have lacked side-by-side drama.
There are good reasons for that according to the competitors.
All three races have been short fields of about 20 cars including last Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash and the two Gander RV Duel qualifying races.
Sunday’s 61s tDaytona 500 will feature a 40-car field for 200 laps culminating with the biggest single-race prize in NASCAR.
With most of the starting lineup locked in through NASCAR’s charter system, teams no longer have to race their way into the starting grid through the qualifying races. Only two drivers advanced into the Daytona 500 from the qualifiers, Parker Kligerman in Duel No. 1 and Brendan Gaughan in Duel No. 2.
Tyler Reddick and Casey Mears took the other starting positions as the fastest non-charter drivers in last Sunday’s single-lap time trials.
With little on the line in Thursday night’s races, why risk it with an unnecessary move that could tear up the primary car for the Daytona 500?
There is a lot to consider in the days leading up to the start of the NASCAR season and that is why the racing so far has been on the mundane side.
Expect that to change on Sunday.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a race like we’ve seen the last two races,” said Kevin Harvick, winner of the first Duel on Thursday night and will start third on Sunday. “It’s just so much different when you get all the cars out there, you have the lines that have so much more momentum than what they’ve had, especially when you start putting stage points out there and things in the middle of the race.
“I think it’s going to be very similar to what we had last year. I haven’t watched last year’s race. We wrecked early last year running third or fourth. So, whatever that looked like, it should look very similar.”
Clint Bowyer led most of the second qualifying race before he was passed on the last lap by defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano, who went on to win the race. Bowyer gave a good description of why things will be different in the Daytona 500.
“The only thing I can tell you is once those cars get single file like that, just look at the lap times, that tells the story,” Bowyer said. “Once those lap times pick up a second, literally a second, the longer that chain got the faster I went up front.
“I told my spotter one time; the chain must have got longer because we picked up like 3/10ths like boom. As soon as the 9 car (Chase Elliott) started getting antsy down there, slow down. As soon as they got back in line, I could see our lap times picked back up.
“That’s part of it. That’s part of aero, part of learning. You can’t unlearn things that we’ve learned. Will it go back to three‑wide, four‑wide, chaotic Daytona like it always is? Probably at some point.”