The Talladega Two Car Tango

2009 Daytona 500 080

(workingonmyredneck file photo)

Talladega Superspeedway has long been noted for its 500 miles of white-knuckle, bump-drafting racing, the kind of bumper-to-bumper racing action that always kept the fans on the edge of their seats from green flag to checkered flag.  Those fans at the race track used to fret that even if the stepped away for a short moment, they would miss something monumental.  Some are now fretting over the new style of restrictor plate racing known as “the two-car tango“.

The two car tango took over the season opener at Daytona, where large packs used to be the norm.  Now the drivers have found out that the fastest way around the restrictor plate tracks is to pair up with another car in a “two car tango” and head to the front quickly.  There were very few, if any, slingshot maneuvers during the season opener at Daytona in February, like the famous Dale Earnhardt, Sr.’s final victory at Talladega coming from 19th place to win in just few laps!  That was classic, vintage Dale, Sr.!

However, at Daytona there was a record 74 lead changes among 22 drivers, and NASCAR welcomed a fresh-faced, baby-faced 20 year old, Trevor Bayne, to the victory lane!  Bayne became the youngest race driver in NASCAR history to ever win the Daytona 500.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming discussion was about “the new style of restictor plate racing” witnessed at Daytona this year.  The drafting took on another form, “the two car tango”.  It appears that the very same form of drafting will be taking place this weekend at Talladega.

“We’ll be doing the same thing we did at Daytona” said former Talladega winner Tony Stewart.  I guarantee you right off the bat, that’s exactly what everyone is going to do as soon as the hit the racetrack, go right back into that mode”‘ Stewart added.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different.

For years, Daytona and Talladega were known as the two tracks where fans could expect the massive accidents created by pack racing known as “The Big One.” Daytona still had crashes — there were a record 16 cautions — but that didn’t satisfy many fans who couldn’t get their heads around the two-car tandem racing.

NASCAR officials felt the same at the start of Speedweeks, and issued a series of slight technical adjustments designed to prevent the cars from pushing each other for too long. Like everyone else, NASCAR was unsure of how the Daytona 500 would play out, but was ultimately pleased with what officials saw.

“We were curious, too. It was a phenomenon, we’d never seen anything like that,” said NASCAR chairman Brian France. “But 74 lead changes, dramatic racing all the way through, although it looked a little bit different, the competition level went up. It’s different. But, generally speaking, if competition goes up, the races are exciting, we’re going to like it.”

So aside from a reduction in the size of the horsepower-sapping restrictor plate, NASCAR has done very little to force drivers to race any differently this weekend at Talladega.

“The two-car draft is just so potent. Anytime you can tell a race car driver he can go four seconds faster a lap and give him the recipe on how to do it, he’s going to go and put it into play. That’s that two-car draft.”

There’s an element of intrigue to it, too, that forces drivers to place a huge amount of trust in some of their biggest rivals.

The two-car draft forces the trailing car, the “pusher,” to race blind because the driver can’t see what’s ahead of the car he’s pushing. Spotters are forced to be the eyes for drivers they’ve never worked for, and drivers are tapping into the radio frequencies of guys they don’t usually speak to for in-race strategy sessions.

It made Daytona interesting, however, not all the drivers enjoyed that intrigue.

“You can’t see where you’re going if you’re the pusher,” said Mark Martin. “If you’re in front, sometimes you wish you couldn’t see where you were going. It’s pretty tough on you sometimes when you’re running up traffic and you have a guy pushing you that doesn’t really see that.  We have to trust each other. We have to. Like them or not, you have to.”

There is one caveat that could change the racing just a little. Talladega is wider than Daytona, and many drivers believe the track has enough space for the cars to go four-wide. It could lead to more room for drivers to swap the lead, and more space for a fast-closing tandem to get past a slower two-car pack.

It’s for sure not going to be the kind of Talladega racing people are used to seeing.  Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be a thrilling race.  It only means that the “chess game” strategy that we have known in the past has been refined, sharpened, and re-packaged for 2011.

This weekend at Talladega, the drivers will be finding a good dance partner, hooking up with him, and charging to the front of the pack!

The strategy has changed in 2011, this is not your Daddy’s Talladega race!

What are your thoughts on ” the two car tango”?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.