News & Media


Despite heated Duel, NASCAR plans no changes

February 24, 2012, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As expected Thursday, ambient temperatures in the low 80s created challenges for Sprint Cup teams competing in the pair of Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500.

The aftermath led to widespread whining about the effects of hotter engine temperatures and its effect on performance. It also led to potential suggestions from engine companies to help the overall cooling package.

"That's a fine design by NASCAR. They don't want us to be able to connect and stay connected for long. But it keeps me worried all day long to see my gauges flash at me."

--JIMMIE JOHNSON

But on Friday morning NASCAR said it anticipated no additional changes to the Cup cars' cooling systems prior to Sunday's Daytona 500. Temperature projections for Sunday are below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms.

"We continue to monitor things and work with the teams," Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said on Friday morning. "We remind ourselves that the water temperatures are managed by the drivers themselves. Currently, we don't anticipate making any changes."

Martin Truex Jr., who struggled with temperature issues Thursday but had no issues in cooler temperatures last Saturday night in the Budweiser Shootout, hopes that's the case Sunday.

"It's hotter than the other night and our car the other night, compared to the competition, was really good on cooling," Truex said Thursday. "[Cooler temperatures] are definitely going to help. In the Shootout we never had any trouble with cooling and it was 65 or 68 degrees."

Regan Smith finished second to Matt Kenseth in Thursday's second Duel but said managing temperatures wasn't as easy as Darby made it sound.

"I don't think there's any good way to manage it." Smith said. "We were running 250-260 in the pack and that's a tough situation to be in. It's going to be the same for everybody. I think just ambient temperature is going to be like 10 degrees cooler on Sunday than what it was [Thursday]. That will be good, but outside of that, unless they give us some more air we can't really do too much."

The situation appears to be a classic case of racers trying to outmaneuver officials to gain an advantage. Some, including Kevin Harvick, who finished seventh in the first Duel, said the conditions affected the racing.

The statistics prove that, comparing last year's Duels to Thursday's. In 2011, the first race had 20 lead changes among nine drivers while Thursday's had only eight changes among five drivers. Stewart led the last 18 laps of his race. In 2011 the second Duel had 22 lead changes among seven drivers while Thursday's had only five changes among four drivers. Greg Biffle led 37 of the last 38 laps until Roush Fenway Racing teammate Kenseth slipped past on the last lap. While the move from tandem racing to pack racing probably had some impact, Harvick and others said the gauge readings limited their choices.

"The temperatures are just way too hot -- you can't really race," Harvick said Thursday. "Everybody is just trying to position themselves for the last lap. The grilles are so tight that at 240 degrees [of water temperature] in the pack you are just sitting there and you can't really make a move.

"That's why everybody was so content to stay single-file. I didn't really know what to do there at the end. Tony was way out ahead of everybody by himself. I thought he was going to back up and he didn't back up."

Truex Jr. was just as frustrated as Harvick after Truex finished 13th behind Kenseth.

"We just really struggled with temperature -- just overheating all day and couldn't really go, or even race," Truex said. "Just had to keep air on the nose and so that kind of limits you from doing anything. You can't suck up to anybody and get a run and try to get to the front.

"I knew right away it was going to be a problem -- we were running 240 [degrees] and 245 [degrees], just running in line in second with air on the nose. Fought cooling pretty bad and it handicapped us from really even racing."

Jamie McMurray finished 10th in the first Duel and advocated some kind of solution.

"I'm hoping NASCAR will open up the grille a little bit more because it was a little hard to race because you got too hot," McMurray said. "If you were trying to push cars early on, it just got too hot. Once you pop that PRV [pressure relief valve] off, it is over. You can't push the rest of the day. So, I popped mine off a little too early in the race."

McMurray did make one key remark that reflects what NASCAR is trying to establish with its more restrictive cooling systems when he said the style of racing seen both last Saturday in the Budweiser Shootout and Thursday "is still better than the tandem thing."

Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines head Richie Gilmore said Thursday his cars' water and oil temperatures were getting too high and not coming back down fast enough, leading to concerns about their 500-mile viability Sunday.

Gilmore said he had asked NASCAR about placing an oil-cooler vent in the cars' lower-left-front corner, saying "if we could keep the oil temperature down that would help control the water temperature a little better." But NASCAR, which increased the PRV limit from 25 to 28 pounds per square inch earlier this week, doesn't seem inclined to open the grille any wider, add vents or increase the PRV limit.

That's got Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson concerned. Gordon finished eighth in the second Duel and echoed McMurray's comments. Johnson was visibly pushing water out of his car's engine as he took the white flag and he finished third, behind Kenseth and Smith.

"It wasn't a lot of fun for us," Gordon said. "We really struggled keeping the temperatures down. Once we got hot we just really were along for the ride."

Johnson added his own nervous tale.

"We were right there on edge [of overheating]," Johnson said. "And even without pushing, we're right there on edge. And that's a fine design by NASCAR. They don't want us to be able to connect and stay connected for long. But it keeps me worried all day long to see my gauges flash at me."

In both the night-time Budweiser Shootout and Thursday's 80-plus-degree Duel races, cars were only able to push for typically less than a half-lap before they have to separate. However, there were innumerable cases of tandem cars drastically advancing before they have to break up. Kyle Busch won the Shootout by pushing Stewart for a full lap before slingshotting past him out of Turn 4.

But he acknowledged how heating and cooling issues affected his ability to race Thursday, when he finished seventh in the second race.

"The cooling certainly is a factor," Busch said. "It seemed like yesterday the bottom lane would be a little more powerful than the top lane would be, just because the top lane, you need to be able to push a little bit down the straightaways or get to the guy in front of you a little bit easier without overheating to make the outside lane, move.

"It just seemed so difficult to make the outside lane sustainable with the amount of temperature we were running [Thursday]."