TALLADEGA, Ala. – Each of the past two weeks, a chain of wrecks and crazy circumstances on the track have shuffled the Chase for the Nextel Cup standings.
And next up: Talladega Superspeedway, a track well-known for three- and four-wide racing and chain-reaction crashes that can easily involve half the field.
Not to mention Sunday’s UAW-Ford 500 marks the first restrictor-plate race utilizing the car of tomorrow. Although drivers got a taste of what to expect at a test session last month, Friday’s practices were the first with all cars on the track. Qualifying for Sunday’s race begins at 2:15 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.
Several of the 12 drivers competing in the Chase were quick to offer up predictions.
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“I hope everybody brought as many cameras as possible because it is definitely going to be history,” said Denny Hamlin. “I don’t know. It is crazy because you just don’t know where the cars are going to go.”
Said Carl Edwards, “I don’t know if it will be crazier than usual. I just think it’s going to be a little bit closer. The cars drive real well and they seem to stick together like glue. It always seems to me like it’s a little bit crazy here.”
Another common complaint: It’s more difficult for drivers to see ahead of them because of the cars are larger and have large rear wings.
“You used to be able to see through the guy in front of you to see the guy in front of him. But right now, it takes more to look around the guy,” explained Kyle Busch.
“Before, you could just move over to the side a little bit and see around him. Now you’ve got to get out completely from behind him almost to see around him because the greenhouses are so big.”
It didn’t take long in the first practice to see that one common trait of restrictor-plate racing – bump-drafting – would be used just as frequently, if not more, with the new cars.
The front and rear bumpers on the COTs line up at the same almost the same height, a big difference from the cars that have been used on superspeedways. That allows drivers to bump-draft with less of a chance of inflicting damage to their cars.
Hamlin’s excessive use of the technique drew the ire of NASCAR officials on Friday.
Hamlin was docked 15 minutes of practice time from Friday’s second practice session for his failure to adhere to a directive from NASCAR official, who ordered him to stop bump-drafting during the first practice session. He continued to do so and was parked for the remainder of the early session.
Hamlin wasn’t concerned about losing the practice time.
“We asked them what the difference between us and everyone else out there and they said we were on TV when we were doing it,” Hamlin said. “I guess we’ll blame the dadgum television cameras.”
As it turned out, Hamlin’s team elected not to practice at all in the second session. Joining Hamlin on the sidelines for the second session was four-time series champion Jeff Gordon.
“There was some excessive bump-drafting going on out there,” Gordon said. “(Hamlin) got into the back of me. Maybe it was a little harder than it should have been.
"That’s these cars. That’s the situation we’re in right now.”