Change Is Inevitable And More To Come Soon In 2012

One of NASCAR's goals this year, as it makes - again - competitive changes, is to find a way to eradicate the two-car drafts that have become the norm at Daytona and other superspeedways. If it does so, hopefully what results is a better product.

As it is with everything and everyone, change is inevitable. This is, obviously, true in NASCAR.

Since the end of the 2011 Cup season the stock car landscape has been altered considerably. You don’t have to be reminded about the teams that no longer exist, the sponsors that have jumped ship, the crew chiefs who have switched jobs and the drivers who have new rides for 2012 – or none at all.

Yes, change is inevitable. But when enforced by NASCAR, everyone does not always accept it. In fact, it’s safe to say that many competitors, fans and media members have taken serious issue with the sanctioning body’s decisions.

Expect more competitive changes in 2012 – perhaps as early as Daytona testing later this week and almost certainly before the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26.

Last season we saw a new phenomenon on the superspeedways. It was the two-car draft; created when teams discovered they could go faster when they hooked up one-on-one rather than run in the long, freight-train packs they once did.

The strategy was simple, really. All had a driver had to do was find the right “dance partner” and, under certain circumstances, they could pull away from the rest of the field, which could catch up only if it did the same thing.

Rival teams even chatted via radio offering strategy – like which “partner” should assume the lead because the other’s water temperature was rising.

Everyone did not accept this phenomenon, yet another change, competitors, fans and many media members included.

Now the teams that ran well amid this new style of racing didn’t hesitate to praise it. Fans of drivers who won or whose performances improved found it satisfactory.

Of course, drivers who didn’t do well, and their fans, were displeased with the situation. The media? Well, the media is always cynical, but their opinions varied.

Reckon NASCAR didn’t like what it saw, either. It’s been trying to get rid of the two-car draft ever since it came into existence.

In other words, it is attempting, again, to enforce change.

In 2011 it addressed this situation with changes to carburetor restrictor plate sizes and alterations to the cooling systems, among other things. Nothing worked.

That hasn’t deterred NASCAR. It has come up with more changes that are intended to break up the two-car draft. Among other things, smaller openings and radiators will affect engine cooling.

That’s just a small part of what teams will have to deal with in testing.

The coming season will be the first in which fuel injection will be required. Rear springs are going to be softened. The rear spoiler has been shortened. And, yet again, there will be changes to the restrictor plates.

These are dramatic alterations from this same time last season. They are going to put a burden on the teams during a three-day test. But it’s likely they will have it all figured out before the 500 – unless more changes are enacted, of course.

Will it all mean the successful end to the two-car draft and be replaced by something new at Daytona?

That remains to be seen, of course, but in one man’s opinion, it’s not likely.

If there comes a new style of racing on the superspeedways hopefully it will be one of which the majority approves.

I have been fortunate to see just about every style of racing on the superspeedways over the decades and, in my opinion, none was better than what I call “the original.”

There were no restrictor plates. Cars were, at first, aerodynamically inferior. The constant was the draft and teams utilized it masterfully, making passes and changing positions lap after lap.

The finish was usually exciting and routinely featured the “slingshot” pass the draft created, made by the second or third-place driver on the last lap. Almost always the leader was a goner.

But when speeds increased to well over 200 mph and cars could more readily be involved in frightening, airborne crashes – drivers (and insurance companies) were keenly aware and wary of this – NASCAR had to make changes.

Speeds had to be dramatically reduced. Thus the carburetor restrictor plates came into existence.

The cars were indeed slower, however, most races were boring. Drivers hooked up in the draft only to stay there, creating the long packs of side-by-side racing.

If he could help it, a driver never attempted a pass without drafting help from others. To do it alone meant to be shuffled to the rear of the field. The “slingshot pass” was long gone.
Without that pass, many times the guy leading the field on the last lap stood the best chance at victory. Seldom did we see anything exciting or unexpected.

If nothing else, the current two-car draft allows for more drama. It is fascinating to see a couple of drivers hook up and outrun everyone else – at least for a time.

The drama comes in when the time comes for the two-car hookups to contend with each other; when one or more behind the leader has to make a move.

And 2011 showed us that one positive element of the two-car draft was that it had a tendency to allow anyone the chance to win.

How else could you explain the fact that Trevor Bayne and Jeff Gordon drafted so well together that Bayne became the totally unexpected first-time 500 winner?

Hey, put Boys aside. The point is that it could have been anyone in a two-car draft. The possibilities were endless.

One thing negative about this style of racing is the constant chatter between teams. Teammates doing so are acceptable, but when rivals do it, it’s bogus. That NASCAR wants to do away with it should be one change universally praised.

Since it is obvious the sanctioning body has its sights set on eliminating the two-car draft, the hope here is that it what it does results in something better.

However, whatever happens, NASCAR won’t please everybody. Never has and never will.

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