Tom Time Blog: NASCAR Preseason Thunder – Ole’ Timers and New Rules

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Blog by RaceChaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker – Photo by Getty Images/NASCAR

NASCAR’s Preseason Thunder at Daytona always leaves us with lots to talk about even if it’s usually not earth-shattering in nature.  Every year it seems like the speed charts produce some unexpected names at the top…and at the bottom.

Test speeds are not really always reliable as a predictor of what will happen when it comes time for teams to get serious during Speedweeks but they are good for the engineers to find out how wide reality can be for them and let everyone get back in the groove after five or six weeks off.

Arguably the most entertaining nugget we mind from last week’s testing was the success of a couple of NASCAR’s “old-timers” Rusty Wallace in Sprint Cup and Bill Elliott in Nationwide.  Neither one of these two drivers has been in a car for several years.  Elliott’s last couple of seasons were less than stellar prior to his retirement.

It was fun seeing how excited and happy they both were to be doing what they were doing, particularly Elliott testing with his son Chase, who I believe is going to be a top Sprint Cup Series driver someday in the not-too-distant future.

NASCAR got in on the news of the day, passing a rule for the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series races that outlaws “tandem” racing under penalty of a black flag or possible scoring change.

“We have the ability to just not score the lap or time penalty post-race,” NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton said. “That’s been there all along. I think you can remember far enough back, I believe a time penalty was imposed on maybe Ricky Rudd or somebody at Sears Point a long time ago, and so we have that ability.”

I get the intent of the rule.  I just have no idea how they will enforce it.  How long do two racers have to be following each other before it’s considered “tandem”?  A half-lap?  A full-lap?  Two laps?  How closely can you follow without the “tandem” being called?

It seems the drivers aren’t sure either.  How do you avoid following another driver?

This reminds me of the ‘must be racing at 100 percent’ rule NASCAR invented as a reaction to the MWR scandal at Richmond last year.  Again, I understand the intent.  I just want to know how NASCAR’s going to determine if someone’s racing at 100 percent or not?

As an experienced race official, I have a hard time with any rule that forces me to make a judgment call based upon unclear parameters.  Rules like these tend to make race day more difficult for everyone involved including officials and racers because it’s hard to be consistent when there’s more gray area than black and white.

From what I can see, the cooling systems now being used tend to make the motor heat up quickly when you follow someone too closely for any real length of time so it would seem the “tandem” racing problem might just take care of itself.  No racer wants to overheat their engine.

In case it doesn’t, I would suggest that rather than make more “judgment” rules, NASCAR should focus on continuing to work on the cars to make them as boxy as possible and more about mechanical grip again (less about aero).  I don’t remember the drivers in the 70’s and 80’s complaining about “aero-push”.  I don’t remember them feeling the need to “bump draft” or be pushing each other all over the track either.

I think the drivers back then put on fantastic racing at Daytona and Talladega and they didn’t even have power steering until Geoff Bodine introduced it!

If the speeds drop because the cars are harder to drive, what’s the difference?  I don’t watch a race worrying over speed as much as I want to see side by side racing and passing.

Right now at Daytona and Talladega it seems as though it’s not as much about total car control skills as it is about pushing the gas pedal to the floor and hanging on for three or four hours in the middle of a 30 car pack hoping the guy next to you doesn’t slip and cause “the big one”.  The changes made in the offseason to the current “Gen 6” car do seem to be getting good feedback from the racers, so perhaps things are heading in the right direction.

I just hope they can figure out the rules. You can bump but you can’t push.  You can follow but you can’t “tandem”.  Got it?

Sure will be interesting to see how all this plays out as we get underway for real next month.  I don’t know about you but I’m ready!

Those are my thoughts for the day.

What do you think? 

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