The fans have spoken, and NASCAR is working aggressively to eliminate – or at least dramatically reduce – the two-car “tandem drafting” that has characterized recent Sprint Cup Series races on the sanctioning body’s largest tracks.
|NASCAR's John Darby|
NASCAR surveyed fans last season to gauge sentiment on the two-car drafting at Daytona and Talladega, receiving negative responses from approximately 85% of those surveyed. About 40 percent of those who said they disliked tandem racing "hated' it, according to NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton."Once the novelty wore off, it never gained momentum at all," he said.
In an attempt to reduce the amount of two-by-two drafting in this month’s Daytona 500, NASCAR has made a number of changes to its Sprint Cup Series rulebook. A 29/32 inch restrictor plate will be required at the start of Speedweeks (1/64 inch larger than in last year’s Daytona 500), and NASCAR has relocated radiator grille openings upward after learning that the higher the opening, the less cool air flows through it. In addition, the rear bumpers have been extended two inches further downward this season, another move designed to allow less air to flow through the radiator of the trailing car. A smaller, two-gallon maximum cooling system has been mandated, overflow tanks have been downsized to a maximum of ½ gallon, radiator inlets have been moved closer to the center of the front bumper and cooling system pressurization has been reduced. NASCAR will also mandate softer springs and a smaller rear spoiler this season, and has outlawed in-car communication between multiple drivers.
Even with all those adjustments, Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby admitted there may be no way for NASCAR to completely eliminate two-car drafting. “Historically, once racers learn a way to go faster, it’s almost impossible to back,” said Darby. “There are a lot of smart people in that garage, and you can’t force them to unlearn what they know. With five laps to go in the Daytona 500, the drivers know they can pair-up and go 3-4 mph faster, so that’s almost certainly what they’re going to do. If two guys lose the draft early and fall half a lap behind, they’re going to hook up and try to catch the pack.
“We can write as many rules as we want,” he said, “but we’ll never completely eliminate it.”
Asked if the sanctioning body might attempt to resurrect the “no passing zones” instituted to prevent bump-drafting in past seasons, NASCAR’s Pemberton said with tongue firmly in cheek, “Oh yeah, those worked really well last time!”