News & Media

Drafting at Daytona: Dancing with the cars

June 30, 2011, Mark Aumann,

Tandem racing at Daytona can come from anyone when the race is on the line

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When the rain finally let up and the skies cleared over Daytona International Speedway, the final Sprint Cup Series practice session was mainly comprised of two-car tandems from the same team. But as Ryan Newman explained it, the definition of "dance partner" may change significantly by the end of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400.

Restrictor-plate racing at repaved Daytona is like NASCAR's version of the prom. You may think you're going to spend most of the evening with the person you came to the dance with, but at the end of the night, that may not necessarily be the case.

"If you get somebody that you're working with, it's like a dance partner," Newman said. "You don't need to communicate. Even just like body language in dancing, you have body language in the way you're driving the race car so you have an idea.

"But it does help to be able to see the next group of cars or the next two-wide group of cars or if the track is blocked in front of you when you're getting pushed."

Because of the way the race may go, cars from different teams -- and even different manufacturers -- may find themselves pairing up in an effort to get to the front. That happened with Newman's Chevrolet and Denny Hamlin's Toyota at Talladega, and one reason why Newman will be able to monitor as many as 11 radio channels.

"We always talk about how much we work with our teammates, and here a teammate may be a teammate of another team that helps push you or work with you," Newman said. "I texted Denny as I was getting in my airplane leaving Talladega, 'Let's try it again in Talladega.' And he said all right. And in saying that, you can try all you want to try to make a plan to do that and it might not work out."

The last time the series visited Daytona, Hamlin noticed that certain cars were immediately better as pairs.

"It seemed like you really had to have your partner ironed out in the first 10 laps of the race and those guys worked together all day, no matter what," Hamlin said. "Even if someone got into trouble or got in a wreck, the other would just literally lose all of his track position just to get back to that person.

"And that's something that's very unusual, especially when you're not actual teammates. So you do find yourself racing with different guys that normally maybe you don't even get along with on other tracks, that you think you all never really raced that well together."

Kyle Busch agrees with that assessment.

"Obviously, I think teammates would want to be one of your first priorities," Busch said. "But we only got three instead of four, so it's an odd number and leaves at least one of us out. I've worked well with Joey [Logano]. I've worked well with Denny. I've worked well with my brother [Kurt] and others. So, it doesn't matter who it is."

It's a little easier for a four-car team -- like Richard Childress Racing -- to find a friendly face when teaming up as a tandem. But Kevin Harvick said that's not always the case as the race progresses.

"When you wind up with people having accidents or just problems in general or bad pit stops, or whatever the case may be, you wind up with some odd partners," Harvick said. "This weekend, you just expect it. You know that you are going to have to work with people you don't want to or you wouldn't even necessarily even think about cooperating with on a normal race track.

"But on this particular weekend you work with whoever, whenever and you do what you have to do. First and foremost, you put your team first and you try to take those four cars and make that work."

There were two minor incidents on the track -- and two unusual incidents on pit road involving unburned fuel.

Kasey Kahne scraped the right side of his Toyota when he touched the wall while being pushed by Red Bull teammate Brian Vickers. The damage was repaired and the two returned to run a few more laps just before the end of practice. Later in the session, Kevin Conway spun up the track while running on the apron but was able to drive back to the garage.

Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Marcos Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger posted the fastest speeds of the session, although Ambrose later said there was a minor carburetor fire caused when his car backfired while waiting to have its spark plugs checked. And Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne burned paint off a small area of the right side of his car when raw fuel caught fire in the tailpipe of his Ford while he was trying to restart the engine after making a mock qualifying run.


Practice Speeds
2. Allmendinger 199.402 45.135
3. Ku. Busch 198.474 45.346
4. Keselowski 198.470 45.347
5. M. Martin 198.085 45.435

For Matt Kenseth, Happy Hour was a chance to at least try out a few new moves. He crashed out of both restrictor-plate races this season, and hopes for some better luck Saturday night.

"Everybody kind of gets their drafting or pushing partner figured out beforehand and tries to work on that, so I guess I'm gonna see how that goes," Kenseth said. "I think I'm gonna try to get hooked up with David Ragan. We worked pretty good at Talladega before he blew up there, so we'll probably get going on that.

"I think we'll just start racing and then play it by ear. If it looks crazy up front or you're not feeling comfortable, then maybe go to the back, but the problem is you can't really do a lot different because if you're not locked together with another car ... you [can] get lapped in about 14 laps or something like that."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. practiced with Jimmie Johnson during the 45-minute practice, but it's obvious he believes restrictor-plate racing would be more fun as a solo performance.

"I'd rather have control of my own destiny and be able to go out there and race and just do my own work and worry about my own self," Junior said. "It's really weird and kinda wrong on some levels to race that way and to think like you think.

"It is just different and weird. It won't be like that forever, I assume and hopefully I am alive and still racin' when it goes back to the way it was, because I just really enjoy lookin' out for No. 1, man. If you had a car that [could] drive up through there and you were smart about drafting and knew what you were doing, you could make some cool things happen and that was pretty fun."