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Night spotting adds tough element to Daytona Duels

February 20, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Cup Spotters touch on difficulty of night spotting on back straightaway at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Thursday night’s Budweiser Duel qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway will be run under the lights for the first time.

The temperature of the race track will be cooler and speeds are expected to be higher. For some, a starting spot in the season-opening Daytona 500 hangs in the balance. For others already assured of a place on the 43-car grid, a trouble-free race can mean a much better starting position in the series’ premier event.

While the two qualifying races are only 60 laps (150 miles) in length, the move to run them under the lights adds another degree of difficulty to the jobs of the spotters situated atop the main grandstands.

“Here during the day, when they’re on the back straightaway they’re so far away from you but you’re so used to it,” said Jason Hedlesky, spotter for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards. "You use your binoculars ...  and you do your deal. It's second nature, you're so used to it, it's fine and you feel comfortable with it.

"At night, the added dimension down the back straightaway is the light. It's like a strobe effect. ... When the guys fan out and do their two- and three-wide racing, you really have to pay attention; it has to be crystal clear because the strobe effect adds such a different view, a different dimension for you as a spotter that it makes it harder to tell what’s going on."

Hedlesky has been spotting for Edwards at Roush Fenway Racing since 2004. He also spots for RFR's Trevor Bayne in the Nationwide Series and ThorSport Racing's Matt Crafton in the Camping World Truck Series.

"Everywhere else, in the corners, (turns) three and four, it's not as dramatic," he said of the effect of the lights. "But that whole back straightaway is a whole other dimension. That's the main thing.

"I love spotting at night at all places because it stays consistent, you don't have the sun in your eyes. ... Just like when I was driving I liked racing at night. The same can be said for spotting.

"Here, it's such a big place anyway, and that strobe effect that the lights add, you just have to be precise and ... really be sure what you're looking at and it's not your eyes playing tricks on you on the back straightaway."

Chris Lambert, spotter for Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, said running the Duel at night will be "different" but similar to last Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited race.

"Spotting at night anywhere creates differences, there are the shadows and we have a black car, which obviously makes it a little harder to judge when you're so far away at places like here and Michigan," said Lambert, who is known as @3widemiddle on Twitter. "But at nighttime, the speeds pick up, the closing rate this year is a lot different here with the spoiler rule.

"You're trying to talk fast enough to keep up with what's going on. Matt (Kenseth) got tore up here in the Unlimited race just because about the time his spotter was saying 'inside,' Matt was already committed to come down. Things just seem to happen so quick at night."

Spotters are another set of eyes for the team, watching the ebb and flow of the race from afar but in constant contact with the driver. They can quickly discern which lines on the track are working better or where their own driver might be struggling. Often, they can get a sense of trouble before it actually takes place out on the track.

"And a lot of times you get that sense and nothing happens," said Andy Houston, spotter for Coors Light Pole Award sitter Austin Dillon and the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team. "But at least half the time something does. Not just here but even short tracks and mile and a halves, you can kind of sense when something is brewing, kind of see it and you pay extra attention to it so you can hopefully give your driver enough warning.

"It's definitely different vision here at night than during the day. A little harder to see, a lot more shadows.

"I think as far as the racing, I think being a night race it will be a little more competitive; day races here it seems the track gets really slick and a lot of times you'll see them get single file and the best handling car wins the race. The night will make it be more about making moves and being at the right place at the right time."

Night races are nothing new for NASCAR. This year, 10 of the 36 points races will be run under the lights. The length of qualifying races creates a sense of urgency, regardless of what time they take place.

"They're shorter, a lot shorter, so there’s not a lot of time to go," Lambert said. "For most teams, they're going to determine where you start, it's a one (pit) stop race. ... It's go time.

"It's a lot like the racing we all grew up on."

 

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