Daytona 500: What Did We Learn From NASCAR Nationwide Race?
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The NASCAR Nationwide race at Daytona is in the books and Tony Stewart wrapped up his sixth of the last seven in the NASCAR Nationwide Daytona February race.
It may be premature to call Tony Stewart Mr. February—he has yet to cross the finish line first in the Daytona 500—but he will be a favorite to win tomorrow.
Did we learn anything from the NASCAR Nationwide race today? Among the few key lessons...
The No. 48 pit crew worked the race to become accustomed to the new fueling can—and the added pressure of going over the wall with one less pit crew member.
The two car breakaways were different, and the critical timing of the switch between the pusher and the lead car became the most important developments during the day.
Two Car Breakways: Pusher and Lead Car Must Communicate
Brad Keselowski's day ended when he and Landon Cassill miscommunicated.
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Two car breakaways will decide the winner of the Daytona 500. The teams that communicate well and work well together will survive until the end.
Two of the best in the two car breakaway were Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.
Kyle Busch has been the quickest study on the new techniques to manage the two car breakaway. He has spent time teaching other drivers besides his teammates on the intricacies involved in the pushing position and the lead position.
The driver that masters trail braking and positioning their car will have a definite advantage, while a driver who cannot will suffer in performance..
This was clear with Danica Patrick in the NASCAR Nationwide race. Patrick had a fast car, but she did not understand the nuances of slowing down to get the trailing car attached to her bumper.
Patrick was left out to dry by Clint Bowyer after he became frustrated with her in the middle of the race. This occurred after he pushed Patrick to the lead (the first time a woman has ever led a race at Daytona).
Two Car Breakaways: The Switch
Two car breakaways led to overheating and forced the tandems to switch every few laps.
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NASCAR changed the cooling hoses on the NASCAR Nationwide cars as they did in the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars. Did the drivers learn anything for the Cup race?
With the cooling system's new configuration, cars overheat quickly if they are tucked up behind another car for too long. This has led to a new technique at Daytona known as the switch.
A key to tomorrow's win will be the switch between two car tandems.
First, the lead car must move up the track as the trailing car moves up to the lead position.
The next move is critical for both drivers. Once the trailing car is now the lead car, he must guard against getting out front too far. This will cost them too much time if the two separate.
At this point, the lead car that is now the pusher needs to quickly drop down and get on the bumper of the trailing car, who subsequently overtakes the lead.
Finally, the new lead car must drag the brake slightly to attach the second car's bumper. Then, they are good to go another three to five laps.
The teams that master the switch will be up front and running for the win in the Daytona 500.
Two Car Breakaways: the Finish
Tony Stewart wins by a fraction of a second.
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. emerged from his car after the NASCAR Nationwide race and was lukewarm to the new style of racing. Still, he said he learned a few things in the closing laps, especially toward the finish.
Said Earnhardt Jr., "The guy running third will be in the best position to win on the final lap."
Tony Stewart was the third place car as the four drivers came to the line heading for the checker flag. Stewart and his pusher Landon Cassill gained enough momentum and side draft off of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer to push across the line just a fraction of a second ahead of Clint Bowyer.
"If I would have stayed tucked up behind Clint he would have won," Dale Jr. said, "but I was trying to learn something for tomorrow."
Pit Crew Practice
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s pit crew was the No.48 team.
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The No. 48 Lowe's team knocked off the rust during the NASCAR Nationwide race by pitting the No. 5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. JR Motorsports car.
Why would the pit crew of the NASCAR Sprint Cup work on Saturday before the biggest race of the year? The new gas can and one less pit crew member on pit road is going to create new situations for pit crews.
Pitting Dale Earnhardt Jr. gives the No.48 team an added advantage for tomorrow and they will share their information learned among the other Hendrick teams.
Drivers Mentally Exhausted at End of Race
The new style of racing has led to more strain mentally for drivers.
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After the NASCAR Nationwide race many of the drivers exited their cars, looking mentally drained after 300 miles.
The drivers are now starting from square one on the new Daytona pavement. The two car breakaways now require an entirely new skill set and mental toughness they have never experienced in the past.
Daytona has always been a tough track mentally—but before, it was more nerve-wracking than mind-bending. Now drivers must watch their temps, watch the mirror and stay even with the bumper ahead of them.
Drivers have never been much for keeping track of temps and watching their dashboard but now it will be critical for them to catch their car overheating before the idiot light comes on.
Trevor Bayne Will Be a Factor in Daytona 500
Trevor Bayne learned plenty in NASCAR Nationwide race.
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The rookie to watch in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series will be Trevor Bayne in the No. 21 Wood Brothers car. The car will not only be one of the fastest on the track: it will also be decked out just like the David Pearson car that won Daytona decades before.
Bayne has been tutored by Kyle Busch among others and has quickly adapted to the new style of the two car breakaway draft and the tricks to stay up front.
Bayne may be a 20-year old kid who is wet behind the ears, but he has the instincts to do well at Daytona.
The Sling Shot Is Back
The sling shot move can still work on last lap if there is room.
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. was prepared to make a sling shot move to end the NASCAR Nationwide race, but the two car tandem of Tony Stewart and Landon Cassill occupied the space he needed.
With rules regarding the double yellow line, an element of the sling shot is now limited. A driver can sling shot past the lead car and pass low—as Denny Hamlin did during the Bud Shootout—but as we soon found out NASCAR will penalize for that.
This makes the only possible sling shot move on the high side. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the momentum and the ability, but not the room. But in the NASCAR Camping World Truck series, Michael Waltrip made a pass on the outside for the win with the patented sling shot move.
So it can be done—and if there is room at the end of the race, we will once again see the sling shot for the win.
Tony Stewart Will Be the Pied Piper
Tony Stewart is becoming the new Mr. February.
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Tony Stewart is quickly becoming the new Mr. February. But, like his predecessor Dale Earnhardt Sr., he has struggled to win the Daytona 500.
Stewart has won six of the last seven NASCAR Nationwide races; he's ranked as the number one driver in the NASCAR power rankings for Daytona. Moreover, he is one of the premiere restrictor plate drivers in Sprint Cup.
Once the green flag is unfurled, No.14 will be up front with plenty of drivers working with him all day long.
Tony Stewart is an 8-1 second favorite to win the Daytona 500 behind Kevin Harvick, but the drivers in the NASCAR garage are already politicking with Stewart to be his partner Sunday afternoon.
Ultimately, Stewart will be in the mix when the white flag unfurls. If he ends up in the lead, he will either have the trophy or bring his car back in pieces.