At a time when NASCAR's desperate for a breath of fresh air, the move to sanction double-file restarts for lead lap cars is guaranteed to shake things up a bit. With the change taking effect in time for this weekend's racing at Pocono, here's four quick reasons why the rule will lead to better competition:
Lead lap cars have no lapped traffic to contend with. Under this new system, lead lap cars will always start side-by-side, nose-to-tail, in a formation that keeps all lapped-down traffic behind them. It's a dramatic change from the way things have been done for decades, in which lead lap cars started single file on the outside line with lapped cars on the inside.
That scenario has often allowed the lead car to get an advantage, using the lapped car as a "pick" as he clears him going into turn 1 with the second place car being forced to fight side-by-side for a lap or more. Especially with the CoT, by the time that second-place car gets in clean air they've fallen at least one second behind, and then they pick up the dreaded "aero push," an aerodynamic disadvantage that tightens up the car and makes it all but impossible to pass.
However, with a double-file restart, that type of scenario simply disappears. It's next to impossible for the leader to get a jump on a guy who's been close to his equal the entire race. Meanwhile, the lapped traffic will have its own open space in front of them to battle for the "free pass" position out of harm's way.
Lapped cars have more opportunities to get them back. At first glance, the rule makes it impossible for cars to earn their lap back the hard way -- by passing the leader under green. But there's a loophole in the new system that should put backmarkers in perfect position to capitalize. Under a caution flag, should all the lead lap cars pit, all lapped cars have the option to stay out. When they do, they'll be right in front of the leaders, a move equivalent to putting them on the tail end of the lead lap. But with the new rules, NASCAR is allowing them to pass the pace car and earn their lap right back.
Such a scenario would have helped Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, and others at Dover on Sunday when they were trapped laps behind after a caution flag came out in the middle of green flag stops. While Biffle got back on the lead lap and rallied up to 3rd, Gordon wound up two laps down -- a kiss of death that makes the free pass virtually unusable. But under this new system, crew chief Steve Letarte would have likely rolled the dice a few times, kept Gordon out in front of the pace car and put him back on the lead lap.
Clearly, one rule is not a fix-all for the overall health of the series, and there are some questions about how it'll be implemented moving forward. But this rule -- combined with the expansion of the "free pass" car for the entire race -- will lead to more drivers finishing on the lead lap. And the more of those there are, the better the competition generally is around the NASCAR circuit.
Lead changes are a virtual guarantee. One of the biggest problems plaguing the Cup Series this year is lead changes. With numbers down drastically at nine of the first 13 races, the car in front often pulls away due to the clean air it experiences at the front of the field. But with a car nearly its equal starting the race alongside, it's going to be difficult if not impossible for cars to find the clean air they want. That should lead to a good two or three green flag swaps for the lead before things start to settle out amongst the top two -- which is two to three more than we've seen under green during entire races this season.
It's a fan-friendly move. Say what you want about NASCAR being unresponsive to its fan base, but the sport made this change with overwhelming fan support. Even the most critical of fans recognizes the competitive advantages, allowing NASCAR's CEO to gloat before the procedure is even taken to the track.
"We've heard the fans loud and clear: 'double-file restarts -- shootout style' are coming to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series," said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. "This addition to the race format is good for competition and good for the fans."
There are still things that fans have reason to be worried about -- for example, coverage of lapped cars could now be non-existent with them being thrown at the back in the pack. This move does nothing but increase competition and excitement across the board. Yes, it's untraditional; but with declining TV ratings and fan interest, the last thing NASCAR needs is to stay the course.
Early indications are they're changing direction. Now, it's time to see just how far they'll go.
As Tim Tuttle told us Tuesday, Martin Truex, Jr. is considering two main options for Sprint Cup in 2010: Michael Waltrip Racing and Stewart-Haas. But as Truex debates his future, there's one thing we already know for certain: his tenure at Earnhardt Ganassi -- and perhaps the former DEI as we know it -- is all but over. One source close to the situation confirmed Truex has neither desire nor plan to stay at EGR, expecting Chip Ganassi to break off with his own organization and lone mainstay Juan Pablo Montoya. With just five months under the Ganassi roof, Truex has no loyalty to either, and considering sources tell me Teresa Earnhardt is thinking about getting out altogether... that makes his decision to jump ship a no-brainer.
The fan uproar over Carl Long's 12-race suspension and $200,000 fine for crew chief Charles Swing is simply incredible, a PR nightmare for the sport at the worst possible time. It's true that Long broke the rule, but a fine that's equivalent to putting his team out of business is laughable considering he used the engine in an exhibition race. How ironic that a sport that built itself up on rooting for the underdog is instead doing all it can to eliminate them.
No matter what happens in court, Jeremy Mayfield's future in Cup Series ownership looks bleak ... and by bleak, I mean he's close to broke. The No. 41 hasn't traveled to the last two races because it lacks a primary sponsor, and unless a last-minute backer comes through, don't expect the No. 41 to come back even if the court clears him to return to competition.