WALTZ: Was Racing At Daytona Good Or Bad For The Sport?

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HARRISBURG, N.C.

This definitely isn’t going to be your father’s Daytona 500. In fact, Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout told us the 53rd running of the “Great American Race” will be unlike anything seen since drivers first navigated the high banks of Daytona Int’l Speedway in 1959.

The Shootout introduced a totally new style of stock-car racing as drivers paired up two-by-two. Drivers have long understood and utilized the effects of drafting at Daytona, but never has its impact been so great that two cars running bumper-to-bumper are nearly 20 miles per hour faster than a car running alone.

The giant pack of cars some predicted never developed and it’s interesting that four or five cars lined up are actually slower than two cars glued together.

And how about the 206-mph speeds, and engines turning 9,700 rpms? Both are concerns heading into the sport’s biggest race. NASCAR has already mandated a change to the front of the cars prior to Thursdays Gatorade Duels and don’t be surprised if additional alterations are made before the Daytona 500.

Also, NASCAR specifies a choice of two rear-end gear ratios and that too could change in an effort to bring down the rpms. Engine builders are extremely nervous about parts lasting 500 miles while rotating nearly 10,000 times a minute.

Ironically, there were two very different types of racing on display Saturday at Daytona Int’l Speedway. While the Shootout was wild and crazy and featured a record number of lead changes, even the fastest cars in the ARCA Racing Series event were unable to pass those hugging the yellow line.

If there had been a couple of floats and a marching band, the ARCA race would have been a certified parade.

So which type of racing is better?

The Shootout was definitely more entertaining, but that’s not even close to the traditional type of racing that has made NASCAR a billion-dollar industry. The closest thing we can compare it to is a promotional gimmick known in short-track circles as train racing.

Jeff Gordon reportedly said over his two-way radio that this new style of restrictor-plate racing is like playing chess on the edge of a cliff with the wind blowing 50 mph. That’s an appropriate analogy and we learned Saturday night that it is not unusual for some people to go over the edge.

We are worried that while this two-by-two style of racing will be embraced by casual fans, it will further alienate the hardcore fans who are already unhappy with the folks calling the shots in Daytona Beach.

And that’s exactly what the sport doesn’t need as it attempts to build momentum heading into a season in which NASCAR truly needs to hit a home run.

• It was a big week for drivers eligible for AARP membership. Steve Kinser, 56, won two World of Outlaws sprint-car races; Sammy Swindell, 55, claimed two All Star sprint-car victories; Billy Moyer, 53, was among the Lucas Oil late model winners at East Bay Raceway Park; and Bobby Gerhart, 52, won the Daytona ARCA race.

• Any NASCAR driver convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs should be suspended for a minimum of six races. These guys are role models and they need to act like it.

Michael Waltrip’s new book, “In the Blink of an Eye,” is No. 11 this week on the New York Times Best Sellers list in the Hardcover Nonfiction category. Co-written by Ellis Henican, the book details the events surrounding Waltrip’s victory in the 2001 Daytona 500, including the death of his friend and car owner Dale Earnhardt.

• We’ve enjoyed hearing from several readers and want to hear from many more. E-mail reaches us at [email protected]