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OBSERVATIONS: Advance Auto Parts Clash

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While the first event of the year started out with a lot of flash, the pan looked bare by the time the checkered flag flew.

The Advance Auto Parts Clash is seen as a preview for what to expect from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for the remainder of speedweeks, and this year did not disappoint with things noticed across the board. With a new body for Chevrolet, combined with the elimination of the ride height rule and a change in aerodynamics, restrictor plate racing has seen a shift. 

In past years, making moves and putting yourself in position was seen as being difficult with the cars being dubbed as “too stable.” However, the rule changes have put handling back into the equation, with drivers slipping around more often than not. Does Kyle Larson‘s epic save ring any bells?

The change proved to be successful, as the first 30 laps of the event saw dicey racing, with drivers changing lanes and swapping positions every single time. While past events had only seen a total of five lead changes, the first 25 circuits had that many alone. This happened as a result of drivers being able to get bigger runs than they had in the past, therefore giving them momentum to make something happen. But, the closing rate wasn’t so drastic to the point that competitors caught each other too quickly, either.

On top of that, drivers were also able to make their way from the front to the back, as well, as evident by Brad Keselowski going from last to first. In a nutshell, dicey racing is always entertaining for the fans, as it keeps you interested in what could happen next. While you would think it’d produce more wrecks, that wasn’t the case with only Jamie McMurray wrecking out before the final laps.

After seeing such great action in the first half, ultimately there was excitement for what could come. However, that never happened. Essentially, the race fell on it’s face in the second half as the drivers found themselves single-file, and moves were made too late to even have an effect – except for a big wreck.

One of the draw backs in having handling in the equation is it forces drivers to want to ride and conserve their equipment, or not put themselves in questionable situations due to potential of something happening. It’s something that we’ve seen every single restrictor plate event, so it wasn’t a surprise today.

Drivers have said it countless times that these events are essentially a chess game. If you go too early and have no help, you’re going straight to the back. But if you time it correctly and have friends, you’re going to be able to get a run. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin both tried, but you saw them simply slide back.

However, drivers waiting until the last lap proved to be a failure as essentially, none of them were able to get alongside the top-two Team Penske teammates.

Finding a balance between not being too early or late will be key in the Daytona 500, like always, and making sure you have friends will be a benefit. Cue co-opetition – working with your competitors for the benefit of yourself. If they would’ve gotten a group together with four or five to go, then possibly it would’ve been a different story.

It also proves even with the new package, the same rules apply as the past couple of years – work with your teammates. Toyota perfected this with Hamlin’s Daytona 500 victory, and Ford used it to their advantage to dominate through the rest of the year. If you look at the Duel line-ups, this is setting up perfectly for some if they follow this science. 

Also….. NASCAR made the decision to eliminate one crew member from each team, going from six to five people on pit road. Obviously, the effect was felt with pit stops slower by a couple of seconds. With so much talk of how teams would adjust and possible different strategies, it was a shocker that the broadcast team did not feature the stops more, discussing what teams did. Certainly something that would be important to address moving forward, especially on the intermediate tracks due to how critical time spent there can be.

Lastly…. Let’s hope we’ve seen the last of the yellow line controversy as once again, it was back in the limelight thanks to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch. Being able to make a call on this, and correctly, allows the sanctioning body to set the tone for the rest of Speedweeks. 

While Stenhouse did make a pass below, he stated that he should not have been penalized by NASCAR due to Busch pushing him underneath. Looking at the replay, NASCAR did get it right as Stenhouse moved to the left before Busch did, therefore enacting the pass before Busch blocked. If Busch had shifted first, you could say that Stenhouse was right.

That said, it was stated that the penalty was issued due to Stenhouse failing to give up the track position he had gained with the move. Being in the midst of a bunch of cars, simply slowing down could result in a crash with those trying to avoid so you can understand the fact of it being a little tough to do. However, it’s something you must do in the position.

Now if Busch had blocked as stated, is it fair that Stenhouse has to still follow this rule? You can be the judge.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.