By Shaun Burke
After the first practice session for the 2011 Budweiser Shootout, Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned a lap of 199.6; about as close as you can get to the silent “rule” of keeping cars under 200 mph. Since these speeds have always been in the 2-car packs, I wasn’t concerned. I even sent out the following tweet:
“Please NASCAR, don’t change the plate size! The pack speeds aren’t 200! I don’t think we’d see the cool 2 car breakaways with smaller plates.”
Well, how quickly my opinion can change! After watching the second practice session (I didn’t get to see the first). I saw several cars pass the 200 mph mark. Still, I wasn’t concerned because the pack isn’t going 200. Then my opinion changed faster than the cars were moving at Daytona. I watched Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne blow through the middle lane going about 10 mph faster than the cars on either side. A slight miscalculation by Martin or Kahne or a slight bobble by one of the cars they were passing would have been catastrophic at those speeds. The difference between cars flying and cars on the ground is very slight.
Since this was a practice session, everyone was giving Martin and Kahne lots of room. I can’t help but think if that very move was attempted on the last lap of the Budweiser Shootout or the Daytona 500, it would not end well. It would be easy for the slower cars to misjudge the quickly moving cars and pull up to throw a block.
NASCAR needs to change the plate before Daytona 500 practice starts or the Budweiser Shootout is run. Not doing so could be the biggest (avoidable) test for the new car.