News & Media

Dedicated dance partner now a thing of the past

July 07, 2012, Bill Kimm,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Ability to pick and choose among eligible mates gone; convenience wins out

There was a time races at Daytona mirrored high school dances in Volusia County, Fla. Drivers would scour the garage, trying to partner up with someone for an intimate slow dance on the 2.5-mile asphalt track. Most of the time, teammates would partner; sometimes two would find a spark due to racing for the same manufacturer. Bottom line: to succeed at Daytona, you had to partner with somebody. With 43 cars in the field, you did not want to be the one wallflower left to flounder on your own.

As cars dropped out for different reasons, relationships would change and arrangements were made on the fly. But, more often than not, drivers knew with whom they would run. Things changed this season, however, as NASCAR made significant changes to the cooling system in the Cup cars to help break up the two-car draft and bring back more of the pack racing fans loved.

"It's kind of like it used to be -- every man for himself. If you're first, you work with the guy that is behind you; and if you're second, you push the guy that's in front of you."


Drivers still make calls and buy corsages, but nowhere near the way they used to.

"It's pretty much impossible to work all that out just because of the way the cooling goes," Kevin Harvick said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, site of Saturday night's Coke Zero 400. "It's kind of like it used to be -- every man for himself. If you're first, you work with the guy that is behind you; and if you're second, you push the guy that's in front of you."

Six-time Daytona winner Jeff Gordon agrees with Harvick, but adds that a driver's style plays a big role in how successful whatever partnership is formed will be.

"I think you are going to have to team up with whoever is in front of you or behind you and [you] hope you have been working together with that person," Gordon said. "The way things get shuffled up, if you are in the outside lane and the guy you want to work with or your teammate is in the inside lane, that just doesn't work.

"I think on the restarts in the closing laps, you just have to go push the guy in front of you or if you are the first guy be pushed by the guy behind you and take the momentum wherever it goes and hope it gets you to Victory Lane."

Matt Kenseth, who used the two-car dance perfectly with teammate Greg Biffle to win this year's Daytona 500, says trust is the biggest factor late in the race. But he admits it won't always be your teammate.

"I think, at the very end of the race, you always choose what you think is going to be your best option to win the race or to finish as high as you can," Kenseth said. "There have been times you're down here where you're pretty much all-in trying to help a teammate and maybe you keep working together and you're not on the same page, your cars don't work together or whatever, and maybe you'll find somebody in the middle of the race that your car works well with. I think you go with somebody you trust or you know what moves they're going to make because maybe you ran with them earlier in the race. It's definitely a bonus if you can work with a teammate."

Tony Stewart has won three Daytona July races and is a driver most would like to draft with. He admitted you can't pick who you want to dance with, because too many variables come into play. Ultimately, you dance with who is willing for the final song of the evening.

"I don't think you really have the option to choose. I think it's just whomever you're around," Stewart said. "Whoever you're with at the end, that's the guy you're going to be [with]. I'm not sure when you've got 43 cars out there you have the flexibility to say I'll work with this guy or that guy. They might be 20 cars away from you at the time you want to do something.

"More times than not, I haven't necessarily been with the guy I'd like to run with."