DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s a race, actually two of them, with points on the line so the general consensus here is that drivers will be as aggressive as necessary when the Can-Am Duel qualifying races get underway here Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.
There’s concern about keeping one’s primary ride for Sunday’s Daytona 500 sleek and slick and without wrinkle. But these guys are racers, we’re told, so once the green flag drops who knows? Could be crazy, could be calm.
Their cars were a handful, for the most part, in last Sunday’s Clash and teams are still trying to figure out how to keep that extra speed but regain some of the control. Bodies are closer to the ground, some are set more cock-eyed than others and spoilers are hidden from the wind.
“Speed is up but the lack of stability down the straightaways is probably the most challenging part for most cars out there that I see,” Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske and runner-up to teammate Brad Keselowski in the Clash, said during Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day.
“We saw the crash with (Kyle) Larson into (Turn) 1 and the 48 car (of Jimmie Johnson) getting pushed on the backstretch and how unstable those cars were. And I know where my car was. I think the lack of downforce has kind of changed the game quite a bit.”
Johnson, seven times a series champ and twice a winner of the 500, said the difference between 2017 and ’18, as far as he can tell, is “just the pace.”
“Basic handling characteristics, if you looked at my notes from ’17, ’18, tight, loose, we’re just going a second faster,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “The intensity is higher because you’re on edge going faster. The general handling characteristics are just the same.”
Johnson and other Chevrolet teams are breaking in a new Chevrolet this season, the Camaro ZL1. It has appeared no more nor no less stable here than the Toyota Camrys or Ford Fusions thus far.
It may be a bit dicier this time around but Logano said the game plan remains the same: “I just get to the front and hopefully they crash behind you,” he explained. “Other drivers may run around the back and wait for the crash. That has never been my way of doing it. … I want to race up front and lead every lap if I can.”
Alex Bowman, pole winner for Sunday’s Daytona 500, will start on the pole in the opening Duel with Johnson also on the front row.
Toyota teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) make up the front row for the second Duel.
Both races can be seen on FS1, beginning at approximately 7 p.m. ET.
Points will be awarded only to the top-10 finishers in each Duel.
o The Item That Won’t Go Away: Roush Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says he is still waiting to “hear back” from NASCAR concerning his penalty for advancing his position below the yellow line in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash.
Stenhouse, driver of the No. 17 Ford, doesn’t deny passing Kyle Busch while out of bounds – “Yeah, I definitely advanced it. I was in the process of advancing it before I got below the yellow line, but I would definitely say that I advanced it,” he told reporters Wednesday during Daytona 500 Media Day at DIS.
His question, he said, involves the portion of the rule that states a driver who forces another competitor below the line also runs the risk of a penalty. The last time a driver was so penalized isn’t clear.
“I guess the next time somebody gets to the inside of me I’ll force them below the yellow line and then they’ll have to pit and they’ll be in the same position that I was in,” said Stenhouse, twice a winner last season.
“If that’s the way they’re going call it, then I guess we’ll race that way. We’ll see if they get back to us before we race tomorrow (in the Can-Am Duel qualifying races).”
Stenhouse has every right to be concerned – as a result of the infraction, he had to make a trip to pit road under green-flag conditions and eventually lost him a lap to the field.
But it’s not as if the penalty hasn’t been enforced in the past – it’s a rule that exists solely for races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s only two restrictor-plate tracks, and it’s been called often enough in the past to cause a few raised eyebrows anytime a driver flirts with the line circling the bottom of the track.
o Patrick, Carpenter set for Indy 500: Rumors of Danica Patrick joining Ed Carpenter Racing for a final run in this year’s Indianapolis 500 were confirmed, albeit unintentionally, by Patrick Wednesday.
Asked about turning her focus away from NASCAR and toward Indy, Patrick noted that she “didn’t have time to meet up with Ed and the people” before stopping herself and then adding: “Did just say that out loud? Oh well.
“I’ve never done that in my career,” she said of the slip.
Patrick, 35, is scheduled to make her final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start in Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500. She’ll drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. calling the shots.
o The final word: Courtesy of Clint Bowyer, who was asked about Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring from competition due to concussions: “I don’t know if that was primarily because of concussions. I think it was because he was wanting to cover the Olympics and Super Bowl and make just as much money as he was racing.”