There is no denying that restrictor plate tracks put on some of the most intense racing on the schedule. Whether you love it because of the unpredictability, or hate it for the same reason, no one disputes the intensity behind four superspeedway events the Sprint Cup Series schedule hosts.
So as the 2014 season opened on Saturday night when the green flag flew for the Sprint Unlimited, everyone’s stomachs knotted. A mixture of excitement, nervousness, and anticipation grew as each segment ended and drew closer and closer to the checkered flag. This combination was further amplified because the number of cars in the field—which was already at a very small 18—dwindled all the way down into the single digits once the green flag flew on the final segment.
That’s right. Multiple wrecks, including one large crash that involved no fewer than seven cars, literally split the field in half over the course of the entire race. A few other separate incidents that were either single-car, or small in size, meant that there were only nine cars racing for the win in the final 20 laps of the race.
Wrecks may have highlighted the Sprint Unlimited, but the racing at Daytona should be fantastic for the 500.
Some might read those numbers and assume that the race was boring, but it’s quite to the contrary. Aside from a few laps of single-file racing in the first segment, the Sprint Unlimited was extremely competitive. Even though eventual race winner, Denny Hamlin, led the most laps and won all three segments, he faced stiff competition from his teammate Kyle Busch, Penske Racing drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, and last year’s Sprint Unlimited winner Kevin Harvick. The lack of cars on track at the end of the race was evidence enough that the racing was dicey, but anyone who watched the event wasn’t left feeling cheated out of a Saturday evening.
In fact, it has me pretty pumped up for the Daytona 500. And you should be too.
But, Summer! I don’t watch racing for the wrecks! How can you say that? It was a wreck-fest!
I don’t watch racing for the wrecks either, but make no mistake. Wrecks are a result of exciting racing. When was the last time you saw a boring race with a lot of wrecks? Or vice-versa? Both scenarios are a rarity, if they ever happen at all. And Saturday night had some really good racing.
Suffice to say that NASCAR’s new aero-package worked, which included some seemingly minor changes like lowering the rear end of the car. One thing that had divided fans for a while was their preference for either pack-racing or tandem-racing. Though a majority seemed to prefer pack-racing, tandem-racing had its share of fans who found it enjoyable (myself included). Mixed with the aero-package of the car and NASCAR’s ruling that tandem drafting wouldn’t be allowed, what we saw on Saturday night was a healthy mixture of drafting (a lighter version of the tandem) and pack-racing. Or, at least, whatever kind of pack 18 cars can form.
The fact of the matter is that Daytona really didn’t need a whole lot of improvement, but there were areas that could have been tweaked. And tweak NASCAR did. This year’s Daytona 500 is shaping up to have plenty of exciting racing with similar racing styles to that of the late ‘90s and early 2000s mixed with the look and feel of the Gen-6 racecars.
The offseason is over and there are many changes to be aware of. So far, NASCAR is 1 for 1.