DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. -- The new pavement at Daytona International Speedway was expected to change the style of racing for Sunday's Daytona 500, but nobody expected this.
The fast way around the 2.5-mile speedway is to hook up in a two-car draft. The car in front is literally pushed by the following car at speeds around 200 mph. After Thursday's Gatorade Duels, the two qualifying races to determine the starting lineup for Sunday's Daytona 500, the logos on the front bumper of the cars were literally scraped off.
As a result, teamwork is mandatory if you want to have any success. Teammates with an ability to talk via in-car radios will have a significant advantage. Trouble has flared when either of the cars in a two-car draft makes a move the other does not expect. Trouble even occurred between teammates, as Ryan Newman went for a long, high-speed slide down the back straight after a minor miscalculation with teammate Tony Stewart. One car zigged slightly while the other zagged.
But if teammates can talk and tell each other when they plan to move right or left then those cars have an advantage. Look for that Sunday.
Former Cup driver Ken Schrader also pointed out the need for confidence when racing two cars that are closer together nose-to-tail at 200 mph than you park at the mall. With the second car touching the first, the driver in the second car cannot see past the spoiler of the car in front. Imagine being able to see only six feet ahead while traveling the distance of almost a football field per second. Nerve-wracking.
Drivers are still learning how to best approach this new style of racing. The look of the second Gatorade Duel was different from the first. Drivers in the second race studied the first race. Expect the second part of the Daytona 500 to be a bit different than the first part as the learning curve continues.
Also, expect wild moments to punctuate Sunday's race as well. It's that zig-zag thing again. It will happen just out of the blue.
The good news is racing will return to normal next week when the series goes to a different track, one that doesn't have new asphalt or require a restrictor plate.
But it will be different and pretty hairy on Sunday. Nobody saw this one coming.