Track position, clean air, and not to mention – track position. These words are heard far too often on race broadcasts, and running at restrictor-plate tracks relieves viewers of that monotonous routine for a few races out of the year.
Oh wait – not anymore.
Viewers wanted to rid Daytona of tandem drafting in lieu of the pack and NASCAR listened. NASCAR made the Cup cars practically unable to tandem draft, even bringing the slogan of “the pack is back” at its debut. But the current “pack” isn’t exactly a pack; the pack goes from single file to two lines to three-wide groups, sometimes featuring all three in different parts of the field. While the racing isn’t necessarily unentertaining, its most severe flaw is the fact that virtually no one can challenge the leader.
The problem with the current plate package is that the most engaging racing in this past weekend’s Coke Zero 400 field wasn’t for the most important position: the lead. Whoever held the lead at Daytona had complete discretion over the race with the ability to cut back and forth from high line to low line, depending on which line had a run on him at any particular time. The power of the leader at Daytona is almost equivalent to the advantage of having clean air at other tracks – which ultimately makes for an uneventful race at the front. Drivers were able to challenge for the top spot on very rare occasions, such as when Jimmie Johnson faltered toward the end of the race and enabled Kasey Kahne to get a run on him. Other than that, however, the leader dictated the race at the front of the field.
Without the tandem draft, phrases such as “track position”, “being near the front on the final restart”, and even “making a move in the final 15 laps” were thrown around when regarding having a chance to win. Uncharacteristic of Daytona, these phrases were almost disheartening as they promised a lackluster race for the win. Even the tandem of Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick was unable to steal the lead away from Johnson in the final laps at Daytona, leaving the finish a fight for position back in the field rather than out front. In the past, the leader on the last lap at plate tracks was in the vulnerable position coming out of turn four, with a highly probable chance of being overtaken by anyone within reach. Now, the leader is exactly that: the leader. And the leader isn’t likely to change on the last lap.
Regardless of the racing back in the field, it looks as if the car that takes the white flag first on a plate track will likely get the win. We, as viewers, were spoiled by the uncertainty of tandem drafting and exciting races to the checkered, and what did we do? Begged to replace tandems with the all-important pack.
So, the “pack” is back by fan request, but the question is: how long until fans start adamantly demanding to have the tandem back?