Track Position Proves To Be Key At Daytona
By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The 2013 Daytona 500 is now officially in the books, with Jimmie Johnson winning NASCAR biggest race for the second time ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and former Roush Fenway Racing driver Mark Martin.
Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski put up a heroic effort to bring the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion home in fourth place, two positions ahead of Greg Biffle and the No. 16 3M Fusion. Perhaps the most remarkable run among the Blue Oval Boys was Michael McDowell, who drove the No. 98 K-Love/Curb Records Fusion to a ninth-place finish. Car owner Phil Parsons didn’t even bring a backup car to Daytona, yet McDowell made it unscathed and finished in the top 10 with the small, low-budget team.
So what was the One Big Thing learned at Daytona?
Even a car as beautiful as the new 2013 Ford Fusion Generation-6 racer is can’t defy the laws of physics.
After fans complained about the two-car tandem drafts at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR crafted a set of rules for 2013 that eliminated the practice. The bumpers on the Fusion don’t line up with those of the other manufacturers -- or even other Fusions -- anymore, so drivers can no longer slam into each other in the draft and pull both forward.
That’s a good thing. However, the result in the Daytona 500 was that most of the drivers stayed in the top groove all day long. Because of the high drag of the new G-6 cars, drivers across the board were reluctant to race on the bottom groove: A 30-car line at the top was consistently faster than a three- or four-line groove at the bottom.
That much was evident in the closing laps of the race.
The nose of Keselowski’s Fusion was damaged in a multi-car collision in Turn 1 on Lap 138. Despite his fenders being bent and covered in “Bear Bond,” a large, flexible crash tape, Keselowski nearly won the 500. At 190 miles per hour, cars are hugely sensitive from an aerodynamic perspective, and as torn up as the nose of the Blue Deuce was, there was no way Keselowski should have been able to run with Johnson, let alone hold him at bay, but he did.
In the closing laps, Keselowski kept the lead by using the high groove, where he had a couple dozen cars behind him giving an aerodynamic push, while Johnson was down low, with only a handful of cars behind him. The longer the line, the faster you go.
It took until Lap 191 of 200 before Johnson could get by Keselowski’s wounded Fusion. Earlier in the race, when he was back in the pack, Keselowski made repeated attempts to go low to advance his position, but it just didn’t work.
“It seemed like the high lane was where all the speed was,” said Keselowski. “I kept trying everything I could to make a pass on the lower lanes but it wasn’t going to work. I could tell you that I didn’t want to run single file but when you try to make a move and go to the bottom you just go backwards. The only thing worse than running single file is running single file in the back of the pack.”
So even though Ford brought sexy back in a big way with the new Fusion, even championship drivers can’t defy the laws of physics.
The good news?
It’s on to Phoenix International Raceway, a fast, 1-mile track where drafting won’t play an issue in the outcome of the race. As big as Daytona is, it is an anomaly because of the rules package, restrictor plates and high-speed drafting. None of the those things will be in the equation next weekend.
Most racers will tell you that PIR represents what they consider to be the real start of the NASCAR season and a better chance to evaluate where they are relative to the competition.
In fact, over the next four weekends, the Sprint Cup Series will race on a 1-mile oval (PIR), a 1.5-mile, high-banked track (Las Vegas Motor Speedway), a wicked-fast 0.533 oval (Bristol Motor Speedway) and a 2-mile track (Auto Club Speedway).
After five weeks, we’ll all know that the new 2013 Ford Fusion is every bit as fast as it is good-looking.