Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Drafting Partners for the Gatorade Duels

It's difficult to formulate a strategy for any race, except maybe to try to stay out of trouble and be at the front at the end of the race. Things can work a little differently at Daytona and Talladega though, where the draft is so much in play. During the actual race on Sunday, all the partners will be available, assuming they all qualify. Things are quite a bit different in the Duels though.

With the field basically split in two, some drivers will have plenty of partners, while some will have none they can really trust. For instance, in Duel 1, 3 Hendrick Motorsports drivers will start the race already lined up to draft in the low lane, with Jimmie Johnson on the pole, Casey Mears starting in 3rd place, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting in 5th place. They maybe all the drafting partners any of them may need the entire race.

Jeff Gordon races in Duel 2 however, and will have no teammates to help him. That is not to say that he won't have help, but will it be help he can really rely on? My best guess is possibly. That's not saying much, but it might be all Jeff will need to finish well or even win his race. One name that comes to mind? Dale Jr.'s old car, the 8 driven by Mark Martin.

Mark showed us all last year that he's a capable driver at Daytona. He's never won a 500, but he almost won last year. Mark is likely to latch onto Jeff's bumper if he can get to him, and probably won't hang Jeff out to dry, until maybe the last lap.

Other notable drafting teams in race 2 will be Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann, who will start the race first and second, and I imagine it will be difficult to pry those two cars apart. Dale Jarrett also is in this race, though he is starting farther back. If I'm David Reutimann, I would be pretty happy about this circumstance, since both of his teammates have won at Daytona before. Dave Blaney, who starts 3rd, is not a team member of Michael Waltrip Racing, but as a fellow Toyota driver, I imagine he will be welcomed by the MWR guys into their private draft.

Also in Duel 2, all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars will start. Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart will start close together, with Kyle Busch starting farther back. I imagine Kyle's first goal will be to catch his teammates as early as possible in this race. Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton will start near the back of the field as well, but I think the RCR cars will be much faster during racing conditions than they were in qualifying trim.

In Duel 1, beside the aforementioned trio of Johnson, Mears, and Earnhardt, we will have the Red Bull cars of Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger starting near the front. Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard will be starting close to each other, with a third teammate Regan Smith starting farther ahead. I imagine the DEI cars will attempt to work together as much as possible. The Chip Ganassi cars of Reed Sorenson, Juan Pablo Montoya will be starting together near the back of the field as well.

All in all, much of draft racing is about temporary partnerships formed between drivers with cars that draft well together. Some times drivers will try to draft with cars that are the same make as theirs, out of brand loyalty to the manufacturer. Sometimes they recognize an old friend who they know will not wreck them, and will hook up with them. Sometimes they will just find that on this particular day, their car works best with someone that they would ordinarily not want to be around on other tracks. In other words, drafting makes for strange bedfellows sometimes.

The only thing I know for sure is this: When the white flag waves, there are no partnerships anymore. Teammates are meaningless, and it's every driver for himself. This is the beauty of racing at Daytona.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to leave comments. All I ask is that you keep it clean here.