DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Four different manufacturers will send out a total of nine multi-car teams in tonight’s Coke Zero 400 at the Daytona International Speedway.
Although all 43 drivers will a list of corporate running mates for the stretch drive, that doesn’t mean everyone will follow the company line to the finish line.
Everyone will be looking to take far more than they give, and that creates some unique alliances that are common only to restrictor-plate tracks.
“You need really be as selfish as you can be, just be the biggest jerk you can be out there,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “That is the way it’s got to be if you want to get to Victory Lane. You ain’t going to do it by expecting favors. You just have to go out there and take it from people, and if you can get to Victory Lane you don’t have to worry about having somebody tell you that was stupid.”
Restrictor plates reduce speed to keep cars from becoming airborne in a crash. Other distinct modifications are required for Daytona and its sister track at Talladega, Ala., to keep cars from bunching up in two-car tandems.
Unlike the other tracks in the Sprint Cup Series, it still takes a group of cars to push to the front – and stay there – since they can divide the wind resistance.
And that often creates a huge crossover between manufacturers and race teams.
Like Crosby, Stills and Nash once sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love honey, love the one you’re with.”
From the opening lap, drivers will be jockeying for position to find a partner for the final laps. Pole winner Matt Kenseth won’t have to look too far since his teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, Greg Biffle, will start fourth.
A pair of Chevrolet drivers – Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne – will start second and third, while the Chevrolets of Jeff Gordon and ageless Bill Elliott are fifth and sixth.
But at the end, nobody will be too picky. Everyone will hook-up with whoever is closest – and willing.
“I think it’s just whomever you’re around,” Tony Stewart said. “Whoever you’re with at the end there, that’s they guys you’re going to be around. So, I’m not sure when you’ve got 43 cars out there you have the flexibility to say, ‘Oh I’ll work with this guy or that guy.’ They might be 20 cars away from you and the time that you want to do something.”
Smaller cooling systems and a smaller front grille will keep cars from getting in big packs for the first 390 miles. Engine builders will turn their backs and crew chiefs will tell their drivers to ignore their temperature gauges in the final four laps as everyone finds a dancing partner for final sprint.
In the past, some of the most-curious tandems have included Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, Gordon and Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski and Kenseth and Kahne.
The last restrictor plate race was at Talladega on May 6. The top-four finishers came from four different teams. They also represented all four manufacturers – Dodge, Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet.
Kenseth led the pack coming into the third turn on the final lap at Talladega, but he wound up third after he got separated from Biffle.
He will have a good spot to try again after winning the pole Friday night with a lap of 192.353 mph.
Keselowski, who won at Talladega with a push by Kyle Busch, said the key is putting past differences aside. Once the race is over, however, it’s all right to continue all rivalries.
“I try to put grudges or ill-will behind and go with people that know what they’re doing,” Keselowski said after qualifying ninth. “Certainly I’ve had some run-ins with Kyle in the past but there’s no doubt that he’s a great race car driver when it comes to these tracks. He can help me be successful and I’m going to work with him, absolutely. I’m going to work with guys of that nature. I think that it’s important to keep an open mind from that perspective at these tracks.”
Even if it means being selfish and taking a lot more than you give.
“I don’t think of myself as a jerk, but you kind of have to be one if you want to win at the end of these races more times than not,” Earnhardt said.