Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TIME FOR FINAL DRAFT; Drivers Expect Plenty of Chaos in Quirky Daytona 500

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TIME FOR FINAL DRAFT; Drivers Expect Plenty of Chaos in Quirky Daytona 500

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

DAYTONA BEACH - When Bill Elliott first came to the Daytona International Speedway there were no restrictor plates, two-car tandems or rules to reduce aerodynamics.

In their day, the guy with the fastest car and the most nerve won the biggest stock race of the season.

The rules have changed, but the ingredients haven't.

"It's the craziest thing I've ever seen," Elliott said. "I've never seen anything like this before."

Elliott, who is making his 29th start in the Great American Race, has seen a lot at Daytona, including a couple trips to Victory Lane. He holds the speed record at nearly 210 mph in qualifying, but the sensation of speed has never been greater since the cars have never been closer - or harder to handle.

The combination of new front bumpers, a smaller restrictor plate, limits on the cooling system, new pavement and a new racing tire have created a bizarre style of racing.

Two cars running nose-to-tail is the only way to get to the front. Two-car tandems - which have been called "Daytona Tango," "Love Bug Drafting," "Two-Car Two-Step" and "Tag-Team Racing" by teams all week, are nearly 20 mph faster than a single car or a group of three or more cars.

So everyone has to find a dancing partner as quickly as possible, and then set out in 20 groups of two-car drafts.

"It's just like a bunch of kids playing leapfrog, the groups, but they were doing it in pairs," Elliott said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who knows today's race (1 p.m., Fox) marks the 10-year anniversary of his father's death on the final lap of the Daytona 500. He won the pole position, but he lost it just as quickly when he crashed a day later in practice.

He will have to drop back to 43rd place on the starting grid before the green flag.

But if he can find a drafting partner, he shouldn't have any trouble getting back up front.

"Well, we've got plenty of race cars," Earnhardt said. "I ain't worried about how fast we'll be or whether we'll be good. We'll be fine."

With Earnhardt dropping to the back, Kurt Busch will move up and essentially will start first.

Burton won one of the 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday. Although the current style of racing is new to everyone, he believes the Daytona 500 will end as it usually does - with drama.

"We're going to have about 400 miles of some stuff happening, and we're going to have 100 miles of more stuff happening than you can keep up," he said. "We're going to have six or seven cautions in the last 100 miles, a short race until the end of the checkered. That's what's going to happen.

"When somebody has a chance to take the Daytona 500 trophy home, you do things that you weren't going to do 100 laps before that. It's the same thing every time we come down here."

There have been four rules changes in the past week to get speeds at or below the 200 mph mark. …

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