By now, you've likely heard NASCAR is currently conducting a preseason test at Daytona International Speedway. But not everyone may understand the importance of the test, so let's take a moment to explain.
This three-day test for the Sprint Cup Series is absolutely crucial to help NASCAR break up the two-car drafts at restrictor-plate tracks and restore pack racing to the Daytona 500.
"The fans have spoken: 'We don't like tandems!'" team owner Michael Waltrip said in a booming voice. "Well, I don't like it either. (Tandem racing) is harder than normal. ... So let's get 'em unhooked. But here's the challenge: They're so much faster."
One car pushing another car has proven to be far faster than racing in a big pack (which was the traditional Daytona racing style until last season). So as long as drivers can hook up into a two-car draft, they'll do it.
But NASCAR, realizing fans preferred the packs over the pairs, began to take steps to break up the tandem racing. That's what this test is all about.
Can NASCAR take steps to break up the pairings with mechanical adjustments? If so, how? Officials have a couple ideas they're trying at Daytona.
• Smaller radiator. When one car is pushing another, there's very little air flowing to cool the water in the radiator – and thus the car could overheat if it pushes for too long. And if the car overheats, it will lose water and eventually cause the engine to blow up.
NASCAR has mandated smaller radiators and overflow tanks, and also moved the location of the radiator inlet – where the air goes to cool the water – closer to the center of the front bumper (previously, it was easy for the pushing car to duck out of line and get air to the radiator).
• Smaller rear spoiler, larger restrictor plate. If NASCAR can make the drivers less comfortable and increase the speeds to where the cars don't handle as well while pushing, it might help in breaking up the two-car drafts. Daytona International Speedway was repaved before last year's Daytona 500, and the smooth surface feels like driving down a new highway – no bumps, tons of grip. It's almost too easy for the drivers to push each other around the track.
So now for the big question: Will the changes work? No one knows yet, but we'll find out starting this afternoon when the cars start drafting practice.
Waltrip said he's heard cars at the proving grounds tested the rules package and still were able to push for multiple laps. So unless NASCAR tightens the rules even more, drivers may still end up in pairs during the race.
But driver Joey Logano said he didn't believe cars could push long enough during the race to make tandem drafting worthwhile under the new rules and added, "It's going to to be close if we can do it for a lap."
If that's the case, fans might see a pack race for most of the Daytona 500, a scramble for position in the final 10 laps and then pairs racing at the white flag.
Both Waltrip and Logano agreed that no matter what NASCAR does, the finish of the Daytona 500 will still be determined by a two-car draft.
After all, they said, who cares if a driver blows his motor coming to the finish line? The race would be over. And Waltrip said he believes NASCAR is OK with the cars pushing for a lap because it would set up a great finish.
But the semi-retired driver also said fans and media need to figure out what they really want at Daytona.
"What you guys want (pack racing), you had it once – and you didn't like it," Waltrip said. "So what the hell are you writing now? I mean, it's true. We've had the long lines of cars, we've had the big packs (and people said), 'We've got to break up these big packs!'
"Now we have the tandems and it's like, 'That's stupid, we've got to get rid of that!' I get it, but eventually, you're going to have tried and experienced every form of it, and you're going to have to settle on one."