DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – NASCAR is starting to get back on the upward swing again. After several years of numbers getting lower and lower by the season, last year finally saw numbers in different metrics starting to tick back up. So far this year, NASCAR is off to a hot start.
Yes, we’re in race No. 1 of the 2020 season, but the hype and atmosphere surrounding NASCAR right now is pretty high. The Busch Clash saw 2.455 million viewers last Sunday which was a 7-percent increase from last year’s race. It was the most watched Clash on FS1 since 2014.
Then, the Daytona International Speedway announced on Thursday that for the fifth consecutive year, the Daytona 500 is a sell out. Combine that with the large amount of infield tickets sold and you get what DIS officials call the biggest ‘500 crowd in years.
Among that crowd will be President Donald Trump who’s expected to be on hand this Sunday too.
That’s a lot of momentum. So, how will the race that all these eyeballs will be on, look? Was the wild ending of the Clash a precursor for the Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN)?
We know tandem drafting may be the winning move. We saw how well that it worked at the end of last Sunday’s Busch Clash. A wrecked race car of Denny Hamlin, who was a lap down by the way, pushed his teammate, Erik Jones, who had another badly damaged race car, to the win on the final lap. Two crashed race cars faster than a couple of other clean cars in the end.
Tandem drafting worked.
Furthermore, three of the last four Daytona 500’s have seen a last lap pass for the win. Denny Hamlin stormed through the pack and passed his teammate Matt Kenseth for the lead in Turn 4 of the final lap in 2016 and held off a hard charging Martin Truex Jr. for the victory.
In 2017, Kurt Busch passed Kyle Larson in Turn 2 on the final lap.
In 2018, Austin Dillon crashed Aric Almirola on the backstretch going for the win.
Also, at one point in last decade, tandem drafting was the quick way around the four annual stops at Daytona and Talladega. It was dangerous, but you’d see cars separate from big packs and pair up to make runs on everyone. It was two cars working as one. It almost looked borderline ridiculous.
So, NASCAR came in and made changes to the cars that wouldn’t allow for tandem drafts anymore which set up a move back to the traditional packs that we were accustomed to seeing.
Now, tandem drafting isn’t outlawed in the Cup Series as drivers can pair up if they so choose, but the way that these cars are designed, they can’t tandem for too long or they’ll overheat.
Plus, the Chevrolet cars who had body changes to the Camaro during the offseason, still are having a hard time locking bumpers. They get squirly. There’s nothing they can do about that now, so they will have to try it on Sunday and hope that it works.
So, I think you’ll see this move made sporadically throughout the race when teammates are trying to get by cars, and then they’ll separate. With this being the quickest way around the track, wouldn’t it be used for a last lap pass for the win?
Well, it certainly could, but think about the damage that it could cause too. To tandem draft, it’s an art. The second car is blind to the front. All he can see if the bumper and spoiler of the car in front of him. If the car in front of him moves, he has to move with it. A slight bobble or mistake and not staying locked on a move would cause the car in front to spin.
So, tandem drafting can cause a big crash if the car leading the charge moves to the high or low lane and the car behind doesn’t move quick enough to stay locked. It can also cause carnage if the group or groups of cars in front move to block. The lead car has to counter the block and if the guy behind doesn’t follow suit, the lead car gets spun. If he does follow suit and the cars in front keep blocking, then they’ll get run over and cause a big crash too.
Tandem drafting and blocking is what causes 95-percent of the crashes at Daytona these days. That’s why we see so many cars wadded up.
All 18 starters in the Busch Clash this year had damage. 17 of the 20 cars in last year’s Clash were involved in an incident during the race.
In the 2017 Daytona 500, 34 of the 40 cars that started were involved in some kind of wreck throughout the afternoon. The 2018 Daytona 500 saw 31 of 40 cars crash. The July race that year had 34 of 40. Last year’s ‘500 saw 36 of 40 cars involved in a crash at some point of the day too.
I expect Sunday to be like this again.