The Daytona 500 is the final race of restrictor-plate racing as we know it.
For the remaining races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway in 2019, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will use the same tapered spacer package it’ll race for the majority of the schedule.
What this means is that for the next superspeedway races, the Cup cars will have 100 more horsepower than they have now. It is unclear how this will affect the racing at the superspeedways — even the top drivers, like defending Cup champion Joey Logano, don’t know what to expect.
“It’ll change a lot, I can tell you that much,” Logano said. “We won’t know until we get there.”
Regardless of how the new package affects racing at Daytona and Talladega, it couldn’t possibly make it any worse than it is now. The past three restrictor plate races in Cup — fall 2018 Talladega, the Advance Auto Parts Clash and the Gander RV Duels — have been complete snoozefests up until the final lap. Then, after riding around single file up until the white flag, all chaos breaks loose on the final lap.
In the second Duel race on Thursday night (Feb. 14), Clint Bowyer sat in front of the field for 39 of the final 40 laps while all the other cars ran single file behind him. Once the final lap came, Logano and Ryan Blaney moved down the track and blew by Bowyer to give Logano the win. If Logano and Blaney could make the move that easily, that tells me the drivers are just sandbagging until the pay window opens.
Many have blamed the lack of action in the Clash and the Duels on the drivers having next to nothing to race for in those events. That could play a factor, but last fall’s race at Talladega was a playoff race — 12 drivers had everything to race for — and still, it was a game of follow the leader until a crazy overtime.
This Sunday will be what many consider the biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500. Every driver wants to win it. Yet at least one driver thinks that the Great American Race will play out the same way as the other three aforementioned races.
“I think [on Sunday] it will be double file until the guys want to line up on top,” Denny Hamlin, who ran second to Bowyer for most of the second Duel, said. “The end of the stages will kind of be the only time it gets a little bit mixed up. During the pit stops sequences, you’re going to see some mixing up. But other than that, after the second stage, it’s gonna be a lot of what you saw tonight until the very end.”
Logano dove into why the drivers wait so long.
“It’s all driver mentality, right?” Logano said. “Everyone’s looking at it and saying, ‘Man, if I pull out of line and it doesn’t work, I’m going back to 20th.’ Or in the [Daytona] 500, you might go back to 35th. So then you’re thinking, I’m seventh or eighth right now. I don’t want to go back to 30th. So you’re not willing to take that risk.”
But cars racing single file for the restrictor plate races is nothing new. Bowyer said after his Duel race that he remembered a lot of superspeedway races where the rest of the field followed Dale Earnhardt Jr. around the track for nearly the entirety of the event.
“I was leading the race and I didn’t like that,” Bowyer said.
At any other type of track, the drivers try to get to the front as quickly as they can because they don’t know what will happen or if their cars’ strength will fade away. Mainly, they need to pass cars before the field gets too spread out.
In the restrictor plate races, the racing is at its absolute closest, but keeping the winning interval under half a second doesn’t make a race great. It makes a great finish — there is a difference. All of the floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are really close together too, but that doesn’t make it an entertaining event.
I would rather watch a race where Richard Petty lapped the entire field than watch the last few restrictor plate races.
Hopefully, this new package makes it harder for the drivers to pass each other so they feel they can’t afford to wait until the final lap to make a move. Hopefully, it makes them race.