Roger Diez: Plenty of wrecks at Daytona party

I’m certainly glad I won’t be getting the repair bill for all the wrecked cars from last weekend’s races at Daytona. Starting with Friday night’s Camping World Truck crash-fest, through Saturday’s Xfinity demolition derby to Sunday’s Daytona 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup wreckathon, the carnage was almost non-stop. I don’t know how much of that can be attributed to the new format, putting points on the line at three junctures in the races, how much to the aero package, and how much to driver miscalculations. No matter, the end result was one humongous repair bill and a lot of disappointed drivers and teams. In any case, congratulations to the truck winner, 18-year-old Kaz Grala (from the pole), Xfinity victor Ryan Reed (his second consecutive win), and Daytona champion Kurt Busch, who broke a 17-year winless streak in the Daytona 500.


The other big takeaway from the weekend was the new five-minute rule for teams to repair crash damage in the pit lane. A lot of cars that would otherwise have come back 10, 20, or more laps down and possibly have gotten in the way of the rest of the field were out for the day. I feel sorry for the drivers who got caught up in somebody else’s wreck, but NASCAR has determined from the data that seldom has anyone who came back many laps down been able to improve their final finishing position. I think the new rule is a good thing, possibly preventing debris cautions for pieces falling off a hastily repaired and uncompetitive car.


This weekend all three of NASCAR’s touring series are at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Both the Camping World Trucks and the Xfinity Series will run today, with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup cars racing Sunday. Daytona winner Kurt Busch knows the way around Atlanta, with three wins posted there. However it’s been seven years since his last Atlanta victory. Jimmie Johnson tops all active drivers with five trips to Atlanta’s victory circle including the last two years in a row. Kasey Kahne is a three-time Atlanta winner, with the most recent victory in 2014. Kyle Busch has won twice with the latest in 2013. Denny Hamlin’s single Atlanta win came in 2012. Kevin Harvick also posted a win there, but all the way back in 2001. Atlanta will be the first real test of teams for the 2017 season with the vagaries of the restrictor plate, superspeedway aero rules, and pack drafting all removed from the equation. It remains to be seen what effect the new race stage format and the five minute rule will have this weekend and going forward.


The Formula One teams wrapped up a three-day preseason test at the Catalunya Circuit at Barcelona, Spain on Tuesday. It was the first time the teams were able to test to the new technical regulations which included wider tires and increased downforce and power. Mercedes and Ferrari appeared to be once again the class of the field with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton topping the time charts on the first day and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen fastest on day two. Hamilton’s new teammate Valtteri Bottas set fast time on the third day, posting a 1:19.705 time, a quarter-second ahead of Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel who was second quick. The Red Bull and Williams teams also showed some speed, while McLaren suffered through two engine changes and limited track time. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso finally put in 72 laps on day three, but only managed 10th on the time charts. Compared to the 2016 pre-season tests, cars are running four to five seconds per lap faster, due to both higher grip in the corners and increased power. Two factors are working against each other as far as passing goes. The wider bodies and tires increase turbulence behind the cars, making it difficult to get close enough to make a pass. On the plus side, increased grip could make outbraking and outcornering maneuvers easier. We will find out how these two factors play out in an actual race on March 26, when the season opens with the Australian Grand Prix.


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