DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The racing has been less than regal during Speedweeks for “The King.”
“No, I don’t,” Richard Petty said Friday when asked whether he thought the quality of racing had been good at Daytona International Speedway the past six days.
But the Richard Petty Motorsports co-owner – and many fellow car owners – believe the drafting and passing will be on the rise in Sunday’s Daytona 500 after a preponderance of single-file racing in Thursday’s qualifying races and Sunday’s Clash.
“The biggest thing, we haven’t seen full fields,” Richard Childress said during a panel of Chevrolet team owners. “You get 40 cars out there, you’re going to see a different race.”
“Instead of one lane, you’ll see two lanes,” Petty said.
Rick Hendrick said some drivers likely were being conservative rather than risk a backup car for the biggest race of the year. He always noted that the racing could change after Sunday, which will mark the last hurrah for restrictor plates (tapered spacers will be used to slow speeds in the future).
“We go to Talladega, it’s going to be different,” Hendrick said.
There were six lead changes across 120 laps in two races Thursday (which did include a dazzing last-lap move from fourth to first by Joey Logano), and four lead changes in 59 laps Sunday. Many drivers said postrace Thursday night that the current package didn’t need tweaks.
NASCAR officials said there has been “zero” discussion about making any changes for the 61st running of The Great American Race, which seems fine with team owners such as Roger Penske.
“I think we have to put it in context,” said Penske, whose No. 22 Ford driver Joey Logano won Thursday’s second qualifier. “The racing will be certainly better on race day than maybe you saw (Thursday) night. Cars are trying to get up last night to the front and draft. From a show perspective, I think you’re going to have a blanket over the cars that can win.”
Plate racing, though, has been mostly lackluster since the 2018 Daytona 500 a year ago. The most recent Talladega race was dominated by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Fords and featured little of the nonstop action from past plate races.
SHR co-owner Tony Stewart said the lack of incentive in the qualifying races – with 38 of 40 cars already locked into spots – also was a factor.
“The worst thing you want to do is put yourself in a bad position to have to bring a backup car,” Stewart said. “Guys are a lot more careful. But we saw guys like Chase Elliott (and) Daniel Suarez that were trying moves by themselves (in the qualifying races). That’s something you typically don’t see a lot of, where guys can move and pass by themselves. I thought that was encouraging to see you’re not having to rely necessarily on a whole pack of cars to help you move through the field.
“Watching that, to me it was a show. As a driver and car owner, I caught myself paying attention to those two guys, their races, the effort they were making to try to figure out how to get around somebody, get back in a hole, get back in line. From that standpoint, I was entertained from it.
“The big thing is, like Roger said, the more cars you get out there, the more the pack racing gets a lot better and bigger. Qualifying races typically aren’t as exciting from that standpoint.”
NASCAR likely would be limited on how it could alter the cars for Sunday. It has regulated ride height in the past, but it would be too late to institute any changes for the race leaving a spoiler adjustment as the most likely option.