Side drafting: From a specialist’s tool to racing commodity

Leave a comment

Martin Truex Jr. knows what lost him the Daytona 500.

It wasn’t a crash, pit stop strategy or a faulty lug nut.

It was the air.

More specifically, how the air surrounding his No. 78 Toyota reacted when it was side-by-side with another car coming to the checkered flag.

This is also known as side drafting and it kept Truex from being the “the 2016 Daytona 500 winner” for the rest of his life.

“Apparently I’m not that good at (side drafting) because I lost the Daytona 500 by about a foot,” Truex told NBC Sports in May. “Because I side drafted past the 11 car too quick.”

The driver with the title of Daytona 500 winner for the rest of time is Denny Hamlin, who won his second points race at a restrictor-plate track (in addition to 10 top 10s and four exhibition wins).

Hamlin benefited from side drafting, which serves two purposes – speeding you up, or slowing someone else down.

“It’s a momentum game,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “Essentially, whoever’s nose is out front is at a very big disadvantage.”

Drivers describe it as getting their car close enough to a rear-quarter panel of another. That disrupts the air flowing over their competitors’ car and sends it on to the rear spoiler or into the wheel wells, slowing that car. That allows the car doing the side drafting to pull even or ahead.

With being a momentum game, drafting works both ways. While it can put one car ahead of the other, it can keep the field stagnate, creating the familiar sight of pack racing around the 2.5-mile surface at Daytona.

“So that’s why when you see cars get side by side, it’s hard for anyone to kinda break free,” Hamlin said. “Because essentially once you get the advantage, he’s dumping the air back on your spoiler.”

Though he’s won two plate races in the last three years, Hamlin believes there’s “really no one that stands out” among the rest when it comes to the ability to draft. But Jimmie Johnson, a five-time winner in points races on plate tracks, knows which name to invoke when it comes to pioneer of the draft.

“(Dale) Earnhardt Sr. had that stuff figured out before anyone was even talking about it,” said Johnson of the seven-time Sprint Cup champion.

“The Intimidator” won 10 times at Talladega and three points races at Daytona. He also claimed 10 straight wins in Daytona 500 qualifying races and won the Sprint Unlimited six times from 1980-95. Earnhardt’s final Sprint Cup win came at Talladega in 2000 when he took his No. 3 Chevrolet from 18th to first in the final five laps of the fall race.

Johnson says there’s a “fine line” between who is good at side drafting at superspeedways and the numerous 1.5-mile tracks that populate the schedule.

“Superspeedway racing, be as aggressive as you can be,” Johnson says. “Mile-and-a-half tracks, you gotta be very careful because you can cause a wreck.”

One driver everyone knows is good at side drafting is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He has ridden the draft to 10 combined points wins at restrictor-plate races, including last year’s Coke Zero 400.

“Side drafting used to be something you only saw a handful of guys take advantage of constantly in the ’80s and ’90s,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports. “The rest of the field wasn’t as aggressive. But now at the plate tracks the cars that we have today very easily stuck together.”

With its widespread use, Earnhardt says side drafting has become “a limited tool” when everyone in the field is trying to take advantage of it at the same time. The two-time Daytona 500 winner attributes the new-found aggression partly to the car configurations.

“Something about the way the air moves and the fender flares on the front and the back quarter (panels),” Earnhardt said. “Something about these cars have them drafting in such a way that it makes everyone have to be incredibly aggressive with side drafting lap after lap.”

There is such a thing as being too aggressive. Just ask Truex, who has to call someone else the winner of the 2016 Daytona 500.

Las Vegas race results, driver points

Las Vegas race results
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kurt Busch scored his first career Cup victory at his hometown track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and is the first driver to advance to third round of the playoffs.

Busch led the final 26 laps, taking advantage when a caution came out in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. Busch was the only playoff driver who had yet to pit before the caution.

Matt DiBenedetto finished second and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

Click here for Cup race results


Alex Bowman holds the final transfer spot to the next round. Kyle Busch trails Bowman by nine points. Clint Bowyer trails Bowman by 20 points. Aric Almirola trails Bowman by 27 points. Austin Dillon trails Bowman by 32 points.

Kurt Busch wins Las Vegas Cup race in overtime

Kurt Busch
Getty Images
Leave a comment

After entering the Round of 12 last in the playoff standings, Kurt Busch won Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his first win of the season and advancing him into the Round of 8.

Busch held off Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin to also claim his first Cup win at his home track.

Busch led 29 of the last 34 laps. His time at the front of the pack was a result of leading when a caution came out during green flag pit stops late in the final stage. DiBenedetto was on pit road when the caution came out with 33 laps to go and restarted first with Busch second.

“This is what kids dream of,” Busch told NBCSN. ”

The top five was completed by Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

The two-lap dash was caused by an incident involving William Byron, Christopher Bell and Corey LaJoie with seven laps to go. Bell cut a tire from contact with the wall and as he slowed Byron ran into the back of his car before going into a spin.

LaJoie received damage as he tried to avoid the incident.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Joey Logano finished 14th after he had to pit on Lap 91 to fix a left rear tire rub, a result of contact with Kyle Busch following Denny Hamlin’s three-wide pass for the lead on Lap 88Tyler Reddick finished 38th after he tagged the wall late in Stage 2 and went to the garage ending his day … After finishing sixth in the first two stages, Austin Dillon finished 32nd after an overheating problem forced him to pit road for repairs with 50 laps to go.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 2 p.m. ET Oct. 4 on NBC

Check back for more

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

Leave a comment

The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.


STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.


Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
Getty Images
Leave a comment

A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”