After the Goodyear tire test in December at the newly paved Daytona track, teams discovered that two cars running in tandem were running 20 miles an hour faster than single cars. However, they discovered another problem. They could only run two cars in tandem for a lap or two before having to break the two car draft because the rear car wasn't getting enough air into the engine to cool it. Since the tire test, teams have been focusing on how to get more air into the car that is doing the pushing in the 2 car draft. The theory had been that the longer 2 cars could stay locked up, the further ahead of the field they can get, and if possible, swtich positions to prevent overheating without losing the lead, and in the end battle it out with only a couple other cars for the win. After the Shootout practice, NASCAR forced teams to remove the extra cooling hoses to limit the amount of laps teams could run in tandem. Unfortunately the engineers did such a good job of setting the cars up so that the engine could remain cool that it didn't matter they didn't have the extra hoses. Once cars got locked up in the Budwieser Shootout on Saturday night, they were running 8, 10 and 12 laps hooked up without overheating. The strategy worked out well for Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray & winner Kurt Busch, as the 4 cars did break away from the rest of the field and were left to settle things exactly how they had intended. (Controversial penalty to Denny Hamlin not withstanding). Personally, I do not care for this method of racing, I believe that a driver should not need to depend on another car pushing them to be able to be competitve. I feel I have reason to be optomistic however looking forward to the racing in the 500 itself, and here is why.
First and foremost, the racing on saturday occurred at night with little rubber on the track and with very cool temperatures. Almost ideal conditions for speed. However, as a result of the speeds acheived during the race due to the 2 car draft, NASCAR has instituted a new rules package mandating the diamater of the water hoses hooked to the cars radiators be kept to a specified limit, and the installation of a pressure relief valve that will trip at 230 degrees of water temperature. In the shootout and practices, cars were running their water temperatures right up to 280 degrees before backing out of the two car draft. These changes will make for an entirely different twin 150 races as the air temperatures are forecast to be much warmer on Thursday afternoon. This means that the cars will not be able to lock up for much more than 2 laps before the water temperature starts to climb. Once the water temperature in the engine hits 230 degrees, the pressure valve opens up and the water that is keeping the engine cool starts blowing out of the motor. If you lose too much water you'll cook the engine and blow up. This will keep the cars from breaking away and having a 4 car breakaway battle it out for the win like we saw Saturday night. Further, there is no rain forecast for the next week and plenty of activity on the track. We've got practice for the 150's on Wednesday, the 150's themselves on Thursday. Friday and Saturday will see practice and racing for the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series. This is going to work the surface of the track much more than it has been, and also add a whole lot of rubber to the tracks surface.
What this means for Sunday's 500 race is that with an afternoon race under sunny and warm conditions, there will be a lot more heat in the track than we've seen up to that point, and there will also be a lot more rubber. Heat & rubber make for slick conditions, which is going to make drafting that much more precarious.
So not only will cars not be able to run in tandem for as many laps as what we have seen so far, but the cars are also going to be much more difficult to control because conditions are going to be much slicker than what we have seen to date. And all of this is assuming that NASCAR is not going to make any further changes after the 150 races. (A change to the restrictor plates is still a possibility). So although the cars are likely still to use the two car draft to race for the win, it should be a different race than what we saw Saturday night, with the potential for a few more cars to be in the mix when it comes down to the end. It may not be perfect, but I'm hopful it will be better.