HARRISBURG, N.C. — After last week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series testing session at Daytona Int’l Speedway, we have a real concern that the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 will end up being racing’s most expensive demolition derby.
There’s no arguing that the legendary 2.5-mile track had to be resurfaced. It was literally falling apart and the giant pothole that brought last year’s 500 to a grinding halt simply could not be repeated.
But not only has the new asphalt surface changed the track, it has changed the racing and David Ragan had the best explanation of why.
“In years past here at Daytona, you would get everyone really tight together for a few laps and then once the tires started to wear out the cars would bounce around,” Ragan said. “Some guys were loose, some tight and they were all over the race track. You would have to start lifting and the pack would stretch out some, so there would be a car-length gap here and a few feet there.
“Now, all the cars are going to handle so good that everyone is going to be three-by-three on top of each other all day long,” Ragan added. “It will be a different Daytona 500 than you have seen in the past and the last 20 or 30 laps will be totally insane. I think every inch of the track will be used and there will be a lot of pushing and shoving.”
See, just like in a demolition derby, but this one will be at speeds above 190 miles per hour.
The consensus is that on Sunday, Feb. 20, fans will see 43 cars trying to race three, and sometimes four, abreast for 500 miles at Daytona Int’l Speedway. History and logic tell us that simply cannot be done.
Here’s what Martin Truex, Jr. says is going to happen.
“I’m sure somebody will try it at some point, and if we get to the corner and we’re five wide I can promise you there will be a wreck,” he said. “It comes down to how many cars you can fit in that space. That’s how many we’re going to try to get in there. There’s going to be times when a guy goes to make it four wide and he doesn’t know it’s already four wide, but I think three wide around here is even pretty tight. It’ll be three wide all day, like Talladega is four wide all day, and that’s just how it’s going to be.”
Drivers are saying the racing will be more like that seen at Daytona’s sister track —Talladega Superspeedway. But Daytona is not Talladega. It’s shorter, narrower and the corner radiuses are tighter.
Unfortunately, with the cars running in one giant pack, one mistake is going to cause a massive crash that will appropriately be described as the “big one.” The crash will be replayed for days on news broadcasts and sports shows across the country, probably getting more play than the driver who survives the carnage and actually wins the race.
It’s an absolute shame we must go into the sport’s biggest event knowing the chance of it being marred by a giant wreck is just about equal to the chance the sun will come up on the morning of Feb. 21.
But that’s the nature of restrictor-plate racing and until someone comes up with an alternative method to effectively slow the cars at Daytona, we’ll just have to hope and pray everyone survives to race again the following week.
– There is absolutely no way Steve Wallace should have a guaranteed starting spot in the Daytona 500 based on what Sam Hornish, Jr. did last season in Penske Racing’s No. 77 Dodge. NASCAR needs to step up and stop this tomfoolery.
– The season hasn’t even truly started and there’s already way too much focus on points and not enough on winning races!
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