Sunday, February 17, 2019

Thoughts: How I’d Change the Clash and Duels at Daytona

Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, races Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Chocolate Bar Toyota, during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway on February 10, 2019 in Daytona. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

By Daniel Vining, Twitter: @danielvining

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (February 16, 2019) -- From photo finishes, famous fights, and the dreaded restrictor plate, racing at Daytona International Speedway has always been polarizing. Throughout the course of Speedweeks 2019, the fans have made their thoughts known on the current racing package; they don’t like single-file drafting. The Clash, and Duel at Daytona both were chock full of this follow the leader style, begging the question: Is it time for change? I say yes, and I have some ideas.

Teams wanting to save their cars for the end of the race has resulted in this freight train along the topside. Until the newest aero package debuts at Talladega in April, the racing ball is in the driver’s court. It’s up to them to pull down and race forward and unless more than one or two cars decide to pull down and work the low line, this style of racing will continue.

I’m reserving judgement on any aero changes until I’ve seen the reaction to this latest attempt at amplifying the on track product.

So that leaves the formats for these races, starting with the Clash at Daytona.

Some have suggested that it’s time to eliminate the Clash all together, and idea that I fully reject.

In my mind, the Clash at Daytona serves as the race that “knocks off the rust” from the off season, being the first big NASCAR race of the year and the first time we see all the new teams, cars, drivers, etc. Often, the Clash sets the tone of Speedweeks in the minds of the fan base.

Originally set as an exhibition featuring the previous year’s pole sitters, the Clash eligibility has morphed into a bit of circus, expanding over the years to include previous winners of the event, playoff drivers, previous champions, previous Daytona 500 winners, holders of valid learner's permits, and anyone that can drive a golf cart in the infield.

Okay, the last two are in gest, but the point is that part of the challenge of this race was getting into it. That bar has been lowered, and that is part of the problem.

The first change I would make is to reset the eligibility to only allowing drivers that have won a pole in the previous year, and previous winners of the event. That’s it. No more. If that results in there only being ten cars entered, so be it.

Next is the race format itself. Also seeing various formats over the years, the current setup is a 75 lap race split into two segments; 25 laps, a competition caution, then the final 50 laps.

Knowing there will be a caution at lap 25 retards racing early. I say let’s revert to the race’s original format from 1979; a single twenty-lap (50-mile) green flag sprint with no pit stops required. Caution flag laps would not count.

Making these changes would limit the amount of single file racing because the event is already in “crunch time”.

A twenty lap race with a handful of drivers may not be enough to draw in enough fans and viewers, so I would propose similar events for the Xfinity and Truck Series, and have all three on the same day following pole qualifying for the Daytona 500.

On to the Duel at Daytona, the twin 150 mile qualifying races that set the starting grid for the Daytona 500. The first Duel sets the inside line, the second Duel sets the outside line. Only the front row, first and second place, are locked in from time trials.

The element of “who’s in,” and “who’s out” has had seemingly decreasing importance over the past decade as the amount of cars entered has gone down. Because of the dwindling importance, many are calling for the duels to be scrapped as well.

Has this race run its course? In an era that is seeing smaller fields, do we need qualifying races for the Daytona 500?

Rather than doing away with the only set of heat races in NASCAR’s Cup Series, let’s do some understanding and tweaking instead.

It’s important to understand that aside from the handful of drivers that are actually fighting for a berth into the show, these races merely set the starting grid and do not warrant the intense, high risk racing that the fan base wants to see. Drivers are not going to risk losing their primary car, if possible.

With that understood, I would restore the importance of these races by mandating that the ONLY drivers locked into the Daytona 500 prior to the Duels are the front row. I would also reduce the race lengths back to 125 miles each; no longer requiring the need of a pit stop. I would retain the awarding of championship points, and perhaps offer a monetary bonus for leading at halfway.

Only when drivers have the threat of not making show, will the intensity… and excitement, rise.

What changes would you make to these iconic events? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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