Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
OBSERVATIONS: Can-Am Duels
Just like the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers are learning more about the style of drafting and what they need with the “no ride height rule,” the fans are seeing what they can expect in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
The same mixed reviews felt after the Clash are still linger now with the Can-Am Duels complete.
The first Can-Am Duel immediately brought the dreadfulness that we completed the Clash with, seeing the drivers run in a single-file line right around the top. They found themselves that way after the first couple of laps, and shortly after each restart without any jockeying for position – until the end, of course.
But if drivers are going to continue to follow this strategy, what does that mean for Sunday? Are we going to see them play follow the leader until the last 10-15 laps of each stage? That’s the best way to chase away fans, frankly.
It also could bring strategy at times during the event, though, as lack of passing makes track position key. If you want to wait until the end to make a move, you need to be up there first.
The second Can-Am Duel gave a glimpse at strategy, though. Under the first yellow flag at Lap 13, Chase Elliott was penalized for his crew going over the wall too soon. Rather than going to the back on just the fuel they took, Alan Gustafson elected to bring the No. 9 Chevrolet back down pit road for four tires. Elliott then drove from the back of the field to the lead in 12 laps. So how beneficial are four tires, when handling is at a premium?
Overall though, the second event was stronger with more side-by-side racing, versus riding around single-file, as they only spent about 15 laps, versus over half like the first one. It proved that the jockeying for position witnessed in the first half of the Clash is still there.
Kevin Harvick also timed a move like Blaney in the first one, ducking out of line with two laps to go, but was unable to get the run as the help behind him fell apart, killing the momentum with Elliott able to block. So the key for Sunday is to have friends, maybe your teammates, to help you make the moves.
Team Penske looked to be set to sail to the win with their cars all in-tact as Joey Logano led Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney entering the final portion. However, Blaney made his move for the lead from the third spot in line, pulling alongside Logano, with three laps to go. It was a surprise as being teammates, it wasn’t expected to someone break the chain. But Blaney has stat he isn’t going to sit in line and ride. Recall he tried a similar move in the Clash, but went too early and ultimately fell short as he was left hung out to dry.
Of course, that didn’t pay off for Keselowski, who wrecked while trying to shoot the gap between Jamie McMurray and the wall down the backstretch. You can only think of what Roger Penske is probably feeling right now.
Now we know – wait until the last lap, and it doesn’t work, but you can try with about three or four to go as it seemed to be enough time.
Alex Bowman‘s strategy brought mixed reactions from both fans and fellow competitors, as the Daytona 500 pole sitter immediately gave up the lead on the start, keeping himself in pace at the back of the field. The plan was simple – do not risk tearing up the car because that’d force them to give up the No. 1 starting position for the Great American Race.
Frankly, the car was not set to run in this event – yet. The Hendrick Motorsports drivers admitted post-race that they did certain things for sole qualifying reasons – like mess with the skew, that you would not do for race conditions due to making it hard to drive. With everybody being impounded between qualifying and the Duels, they were unable to change it back – until the first pit stop during this race. That’s how confident they were about getting the pole.
With so much on the line, and the fact there are three more practices where he can get used to drafting, it seems like no harm, no foul because there’s time to get it right. But while those sessions may include packs, they’re much smaller and calmer than the real thing, therefore not allowing you to put yourself in sketchy situations to test your car’s handling. It’ll be interesting to see how the No. 88 Chevrolet performs compared to others on Sunday.
Johnson had faded back to just outside of the top-five early, when he blew a left rear tire on Lap 9, crashing into Aric Almirola as Daniel Suarez spun behind to avoid. If you’re keeping track, that’s the second car of Speedweeks for Johnson after wrecking in The Clash. The seven-time Cup Champion has seen a mixed bag of luck at Daytona International Speedway. In the past 10 races, he has won a pair and scored five top-fives, to go with three wrecks. Concentrating on surviving to start the year well could be critical.
Byron’s crash would come on Lap 38 after he got loose due to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. taking the air off of his left rear while trying to side-draft him. Byron would spin, hitting the outside wall with the nose of the car. Being a rookie, we expected a learning curve – especially considering how sideways he got in practice twice.
Stenhouse Jr. quickly became the hero of the first Duel (for a little bit) as he was the only driver who seemed to want to make moves for a while, driving underneath his competitors. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out as well as hoped as getting closer to the left-rear on both Byron, and David Gilliland caused the pair to wreck.
Getting too close to the left rear is nothing new in NASCAR, as we’ve heard about the aerodynamic loss drivers feel when the air is taken away from that corner of the car, whether restrictor plate track or not. Recall the lectures of “don’t ever tap someone on the left rear when bump drafting” but it was okay to do the right side.
With the new rule package seeing teams lower the cars as much as possible, fighting the balance at times, there’s a concern to be stated. Does this make you very vulnerable when side-drafting?
Notably, Stenhouse wasn’t the only driver to cause an incident of this nature as in Duel 2, Elliott got up on Erik Jones‘ left rear, and he went for a spin down the backstretch.
“You don’t mean to do it,” Elliott said. “You’re trying to advance your position. It’s just a bad place to be in when you’re the other guy, right? There’s not really a whole lot you can do about it.
“You’re kind of at the mercy of the people behind you when it comes to that. They know definitely now where the vulnerable spots are.”
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