DAYTONA EXCITES, BUT NOW IT GETS REAL
Every NASCAR fan got something they wanted in a topsy-turvy Speedweeks performance. The Daytona 500 lived up to its reputation and then some giving us the Big One more than once in the final 15 laps and resulting in a sentimental 1-2-3 Joe Gibbs Racing finish as they continue to mourn the loss of J.D. Gibbs.
The only tarnish on the visually stunning wreck fest at Daytona was that they did too good of a job wrecking, requiring a pair or red flags in the closing laps that pushed the Great American Race to a bulbous 4 hours, 26 minutes including the 40 minutes of red flags. The long wait not withstanding, The Great American Race was up in the ratings and was actually the highest rated TV event on Sunday.
But now the glow of a new season and restrictor plate racing gives way to the reality and optimistic uncertainty of the new package. A variation of the new aero-heavy car package makes its debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, and we get our first taste of what racing in 2019 might truly look like. It’s not the full kit (that doesn’t debut until Las Vegas the following week), but that shouldn’t suppress our curiosity as we take in this weekend’s action.
Remember: this is not the same as the 2018 All-Star Race setup. It’s similar but not the same. That being said, it’s similar enough for NASCAR to point a finger at the action in that race as something to look forward to this year.
Let’s dive into the numbers:
In the 2018 All-Star Race (which was 93 laps), there were 38 green flag passes for the lead and 1,568 total green flag passes. With the normal package a year earlier those numbers dip to 0 and 435. It’s certainly dramatic enough to warrant an eyebrow raise from the restless masses.
Now how will that affect this week’s race?
The 2018 edition at Atlanta featured 2,316 total green flag passes. At first glance, the whole theory of better racing with the new package is blown out of the water. 2,316 is more than 1,568. Case closed.
It’s important, though, we don’t forget our good friend averages. Atlanta was a 325-lap event with 36 drivers in the field. The 2018 All-Star race was 93 laps with 21 drivers. When you do the math you come up with this conclusion.
The 2019 All-Star Race saw your guy pass another guy on four out of every five laps (0.80 green flag passes per lap per driver), while the 2018 race in Atlanta saw your guy pass another guy just once out of every five laps (0.197 green flag passes per lap per driver).
Is it a perfect science? Of course not, it never is. Does it bode well for us witnessing much more competitive racing this week and beyond? Absolutely it does.
Don’t get it twisted. The new car package isn’t a field flipper. The guys running 35th week in and week out won’t be challenging for wins, and the guys at the front of the pack aren’t going to get worse. What it does mean is that we should see more side-by-side racing, more action, and more chances for a formerly top-10 car to fight for the lead, a top-20 car to battle for top-10s and so on down the line.
Keep an eye on the kind of racing you see this weekend in Atlanta. If it seems like they’re running closer together (kind of like what you watched in Daytona), then it’s working as it was drawn up.