DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - While it’s not the answer to the unstable Sprint Cup Series draft package, today’s Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 (1:15 p.m., ESPN) is going to feature a pretty exciting alternative in the two-by-two tandem draft.
When that style of racing first premiered during Speedweeks 2011 it was universally criticized by both the fans and drivers. NASCAR responded in the Cup Series with rule changes that prevented the cars from tandem drafting without quickly overheating. The new sixth generation car appears to have completely eliminated the discipline altogether.
And yet, it remains in the Nationwide Series where it has quickly gained a surge of popularity. Perhaps fans are starting to get disillusioned with the prospects of the big accident which has occurred every time the Sprint Cup cars have practiced or raced in the large multicar packs. Or more likely, it’s the novelty that the discipline provides the Nationwide Series exclusive to Speedweeks.
NASCAR has long sought ways to differentiate the Nationwide Series from its Cup counterpart, adding additional road courses, becoming the first Series to feature the return of brand identity and the pick-a-series rule. NASCAR may have stumbled upon its best addition yet by not tinkering with the tandem draft.
The discipline largely failed in the Sprint Cup Series but was praised in Nationwide where the shorter races and shootout format made for some pretty compelling television. That trend should continue in today’s race.
Adding to the intrigue is that tandem drafting features the same unpredictability as pack racing but is largely cleaner racing -- the wild crash-filled endings notwithstanding. There’s a larger margin for error in the middle of the race and the product is more entertaining as a whole.
There’s also a noticeable skillset involved with some drivers taking more quickly to the discipline than others. One of those drivers perhaps poised to win today’s race is none other than Danica Patrick. Before taking this as just another example of Danica’s media hype, remember that she nearly won the July Daytona tandem race and will be powered by Turner Motorsports in her limited Nationwide Series schedule.
She’s led a total of 26 laps at Daytona, all in the tandem draft, the most of any track in her brief career.
The race will also feature the return of Trevor Bayne as a full-time driver in the Nationwide Series, a feat he celebrated by setting the pole for Saturday’s race. Then there’s the restrictor plate debut of action sports star Travis Pastrana, who will drive full-time alongside Bayne at Roush-Fenway Racing.
Toss in the litany of Cup Series drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart, and you have all the makings for the most compelling Nationwide Series race of the season. And they’ll compete in the tandem draft, a discipline that supposedly didn’t even belong in the sport two years ago.
But how about you – do you enjoy tandem racing? And are you looking forward to Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300? Tell us in the comments section below.