Speed could kill, NASCAR worries

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:30 PM ET

TORONTO - NASCAR Sprint Cup racing was facing a dilemma as it prepared for its season opening Daytona 500 on Sunday.

As witnessed a few days ago Cup team engine builders were more than capable of constructing power plants that could propel 3,400 pound stock cars close to 210 m.p.h. around the newly paved confines of Daytona International Speedway.

And when hooked up two-by-two, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and the boys could maintain those speeds for 20 laps or more.

The problem NASCAR had was that with a wrong move anywhere on the track one of those 3,400 pound rockets could be launched into the safety fencing.

No matter how strong those fences may be, there could be no guarantee that those cars would be stopped from ripping through and into the grandstands putting thousands of fans at risk.

So NASCAR made a couple of changes to the ducts that push air into the engine. The more air pushed through to the engine the longer the drivers can keep the pedal to the metal around Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval.

The new rules will make those air ducts considerably smaller, raising the running temperatures of the cars. Any extended pairing up — as was the case in the Budweiser Shootout — will force the drivers to abandon two-by-two racing after a few laps or risk the danger of engine failure.

“(It) is more than adequate for a normal drafting race,” NASCAR Sprint Cup series director John Darby said. “It will still allow the guys to push each other but probably not all day long.”

The move will, however, increase the likelihood of the big crashes that are more prevalent at Talladega where as many as 20 or more Cup drivers run in packs for extended periods.

Although many drivers thought running at above 200 m.p.h. was fun in the Shootout, upon reflection they do see the wisdom on keeping their race cars on the track.

Ryan Newman, for one, said that from his perspective, while he didn’t feel a difference driving 190 m.p.h versus 205 m.p.h., the thought of losing control at that speed did concern him.

“I don’t know that you could feel (the speed), and I’ve always said the most important thing is we keep the race cars on the racetrack,” he said. “So whatever we’ve worked on with our liftoff speed, if the car is going backwards, sideways, whatever else to keep the cars down, that’s what NASCAR needs to focus on for making the race safe.

“Ultimately the cars have to stay on the ground for it to be safe.”

MORE SURGERY FOR KUBICA

Doctors at Santa Corona Hospital in Italy haven’t issued an “all clear” yet for Formula One driver Robert Kubica, who suffered life threatening injuries in a crash during a World Rally Championship race 10 days ago.

But they are encouraged that Kubica will recover.

Daniel Morelli, Kubica’s F-1 manager, told the Italian website IVG.it that keeping the injured driver in Italy for treatment and rehabilitation was the best course for now.

He added that Kubica is in good spirits.

“Medical checks carried out (Monday) have had a positive outcome, and on Wednesday he will undergo the final surgery on the elbow,” Morelli said. “I’ve spoken for a long time with Robert, we have joked and discussed not only his physical conditions and the recovery phase that awaits us, but also the (F-1) tests held at Jerez in Spain.”

FINISH LINES

What happens when there are no true rookies in NASCAR Sprint Cup’s rookie-of-the-year competition? That is a question series bosses are now pondering with only 19-year-old Trevor Bayne registered to race enough events to qualify for the award this season. Bayne will drive the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford in the Daytona 500 and a select few other races, but will spend most of his time in the Nationwide series going for a championship in a Ford from Roush Fenway Racing ... The 2010 American Le Mans Series LMP championship driver, Simon Pagenaud, is looking for at least a part-time ride in the IZOD INDYCAR series this season. He drove one season (2007) full time in the old Champ Car World Series as teammate to Will Power before moving to ALMS ... Four Canadian drivers were among the top 10 finishers in the inaugural ACT Late Model Goodyear Speedweeks Cup at New Smyrna Speedway near Daytona, Fla., on Monday. London’s Jonathan Urlin finished third with Patrick Hamel, of St. Croix, Que., fifth, Karl Allrad, of St. Felicien, Que, eighth and Patrick Laperle, of St. Denis, Que., ninth. ... Kevin Harvick Inc. has put together a full-season package in the NASCAR Camping World Truck series for former F-1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. Piquet will make his first KH! start Friday in Daytona in the No. 8 Chevrolet Silverado. ... Speaking of Harvick, Tony Stewart will try for his fourth Nationwide Series win at Daytona, this driving the No. 4 Oreo/Ritz KHI Chevrolet. ... F-1 officials are expressing concern that political unrest in the Middle East could spread from Egypt to Bahrain just in time for the series opening race March 3.


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