Race Weekend Central

Fact or Fiction: Did New Asphalt, Earnhardt Come Through in the Clutch?

FACT: The new Daytona asphalt will make for an exciting 500

Saturday night, the new asphalt on the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway took its first NASCAR test in a live race setting.

Turns out some offseason studying paid off.

The Budweiser Shootout broke the race record for lead changes and saw cars running speeds of up to 206 mph, with drivers slicing and dicing while maintaining the two-car tandems that have existed at superspeedway races since the introduction of the Car of Today. Even more impressive, there have been nearly 30 Daytona 500s with less lead changes than there were Saturday night, an amazing accomplishment considering the boring, single-file route some of these Shootouts often take.

No more. And with only 0.058 seconds separating the top-two drivers at the end of the Shootout, February 20th can’t get here quick enough.

FICTION: NASCAR needs to look at limiting two-car pairups

When the Sporting News reported NASCAR’s supposed search to make adjustments that would limit the two-car pairups that have become prevalent recently at the Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, I nearly did two Carl Edwards-style back flips. Racing during the Budweiser Shootout was just fine with the multiple two-car pairups. And, the races have all ended with close margins at the superspeedways since the drivers began using the two-car tandems.

My take? NASCAR needs to change things that actually need changing. It’s time to quit worrying about petty stuff and start focusing on the problems that are causing the TV ratings to drop and the overall decline in interest in the sport, especially among the younger demographics.

Editor’s Note: NASCAR didn’t listen, enacting two rules that will work to slow speeds through changes to the car’s cooling system. See “Matt McLaughlin’s column for more.

FACT: Letarte may be able to tame Earnhardt

One of Steve Letarte’s goals coming into his first season as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. was to improve Earnhardt’s language and attitude in attempts to get the driver back on track. And while Earnhardt crashed in the second segment on Saturday during the Budweiser Shootout, his demeanor on the radio has changed.

Yes, there were still a couple of four-letter words that rhyme with “duck” said over the team’s radio, but they weren’t used every other word. While Earnhardt was not smiling – who would be after a wreck? – he stayed calm in interviews and was by no means out of control on or off the track.

It’s still early and the Budweiser Shootout isn’t a points race, but it appears the new driver/crew chief tandem have made some headway. Certainly, the pole is a good sign Earnhardt has the speed to compete; now, it’s just a strategy of putting a complete race together in order to win a second Daytona 500.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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