Changing rules on fly

As Daytona 500 approaches, NASCAR acts to slow speeds

February 16, 2011|By George Diaz

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR is an odd sport if you spend some time away from the garage, covering your basic ball-and-stick sports.

Imagine baseball changing the distance from home to first base by a few feet a few days into the season. Or the NFL widening the goal posts right before Week 1 kicks off.

NASCAR's burden is that it is a sport driven, no pun intended, by technology. And so the rules of engagement are an evolving process.

It leads us to the unveiling of the 2011 season and, already, a conundrum for NASCAR. The cars are going too fast. The cars are hooking up in pairs, like love bugs on speed. Something must be done.

Adjustments have been made going into Thursday's Gatorade Duels that set the rest of the field for Sunday's Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are the pole-sitters for a race that will mark the 10-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death. Dale's son and his archrival will be leading the charge as if scripted by a Hollywood producer.

But two-car tandems driving around the tri-oval for three-plus hours could turn this into a horror reel. Or worse yet, a car that spins and goes airborne from speeds approaching 200 mph.

NASCAR, to its credit, is adjusting on the fly, literally. Teams will have to connect air hoses to the radiator and air cooler. Cars won't be able to stay together for long periods or engines will overheat. Breaking up the two-car pairs also will slow down speeds.

And there is talk that NASCAR will modify the restrictor plates to reduce speed even further. That decision could come as early as Wednesday.

Yikes. For a sport that has struggled lately and had to get it right for the get-go, NASCAR can't even figure out its rules of engagement days before its biggest race of the season.

I'm no marketing genius, but I would say that's not a good thing.

A bunch of people are complaining — fans, drivers, the media — after only one exhibition race.

"It sucked," Kyle Busch told a handful of reporters regarding the Bud Shootout. "You're watching four cars, and then you have another two there and another two there. To me, it sucked."

Busch also noted that 85 percent of the fans on his Twitter page agreed with him.

"We went from playing one type of game to an entirely different game," Denny Hamlin said, comparing Saturday's setups to traditional restrictor-plate races.

"It's a little bit of an odd situation, but everybody is in the same boat," said Doug Yates, head engine builder for Roush Yates Engines.

NASCAR officials have four days before the checkered flag drops at Daytona.

No pressure, but a lot of people are demanding things are done right.

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