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From the Marbles

Hot/Not: Jeff Gordon’s Daytona qualifying idea is pretty good

Geoffrey Miller
From The Marbles

Welcome back to the first Hot/Not of this glorious new year. Since we last talked, Kurt Busch found a ride, Brian Vickers didn't and A.J. Allmendinger hit the the lottery. Oh, and we've had some honest-to-goodness rubber to the road at Daytona preseason testing. Let's jump in:

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HOT: It came to me amid one of SPEED's 3,764 interviews about social media during their broadcast of last week's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series test at Daytona. Naturally, Jeff Gordon has been on it "for years".

Even if he hasn't, I'll let the future Hall of Famer slide this time after he made my/his point during a lunch-break media session: NASCAR ought to open up qualifying, and only use the current restrictor plate/spoiler package during race scenarios.

"I've been saying for years, I wish we could run a different restrictor plate or different spoiler for qualifying just because in single car runs we're able to go so much faster, and it's a lot different obviously when you're in a group of cars doing those speeds and aerodynamics start to become play a big role," Gordon said. "…I wish we were going 20 miles per hour faster for qualifying, and then I wish that we could get it back down to about where we are now. I think that would be really cool to just see, just how fast we could… I mean, it's very comfortable, put it that way. It's extremely comfortable."

You know what? He's spot on.

The primary reason NASCAR instituted speed control measures in the late 1980s at Daytona and Talladega was to keep race cars on the ground and out of the grandstands. Since then, they've added roof flaps, a "shark fin" along the roof line and mandated windows in the right side of the car. And now? Race cars fly a lot less — especially when they don't have any other cars to make contact with.

Currently, the Sunday before the Daytona 500 is qualifying day for the big race. It's basically one big lesson in single car boredom and getting used to the new teams and faces. The only spots that matter are the first two, and the session is now mostly a hapless affair of race cars stuck in the race track not reaching close to their potential. Drivers flat-foot it and turn the wheel hoping to scrub as little speed as possible. Last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole with a lap of 186.089 mph — the ninth-fastest pole speed of the season.

What if we changed that? What if Gordon, who led the speed charts of single-car runs in the now-finished Daytona test, had to battle a race car around Daytona's two and a half miles and — heaven forbid — let off the throttle to maintain control? How exciting would time trials above 215 or 220 miles per hour be?

Yes, there would be incidents, and yes, NASCAR would still need to make sure the cars weren't getting too fast. Rusty Wallace, after all, turned laps above a 216 mph average in a private test at Talladega without a restrictor plate.

But goodness, the whole thing would be fun — and feel a lot more pure than today's restrictor plate qualifying show. Alas, Gordon did hint that the process wouldn't be as simple as flipping the restrictor plate on and off the finely tuned machines.

"I was talking to Martin Truex (Friday) and he was talking about how they ran like 210 or something here testing not too long ago and that he was dragging everything off the bottom of the car it was hitting so hard because of the speed," Gordon said. "So it's not just that easy where you can take off the plate and go run. There's a lot of things that come along with it. I don't know how Goodyear feels about those speeds and how prepared they are for that, as well. But I would certainly like to do it. I've always wanted to do it."

We can dream, right?

Onward to some more off-season babbling!

NEUTRAL: It is good to know Juan Pablo Montoya's driving style hasn't changed much over the offseason, huh? Montoya was a causal factor in the largest incident of testing when he collided with Dale Earnhardt Jr. exiting turn two during Saturday's drafting practice, collecting Jeff Burton in the process.

Montoya's explanation afterward was plausible in that Burton closed the three-wide gap and forced Montoya's reaction, but replay showed Montoya had room to back off some, too. The final result was minimal harm to all, so all is well that ends well, right?

HOT: Sure, they ran low on what to actually ask drivers during the test, because, well, it was like 20 hours of non-competitive driving, but let's give a hand to the SPEED team for putting Daytona testing on the air and online. The pictures were great, the production flawless and even the over-the-top social media referencing helped engage a lot of fans.

One tip, though? It wouldn't be a crime to take from the online F1 practice sessions shown by the same network and just let the pictures and sound tell the story for long stretches. There's something deeply appealing about beautiful close-ups and solid sound of cars going around a race track.

NOT: Tandem drafting really is Pandora's box for NASCAR drivers, and now that they've mostly mastered it you've got to think NASCAR won't ever find a way to get rid of it without some wholesale design changes. It's a bit baffling, really, that nothing has been done just to make the bumpers have less of a perfect fit against one another.

HOT: Text and driving is the latest "There 'ought to be a law" movement in this country, and Greg Biffle's Daytona actions probably didn't make those advocates too happy. The Biff, in addition to going on quite the Twitter spell in terms of replying to fan questions, decided taking a walk on the wild side during a solo qualifying lap was in order.

As a result, he produced this — a really short in-car video showing the on-board telemetry system and a his view while traveling down Daytona's backstretch at 194 miles per hour. The access was incredible, though I probably would advise against it during race conditions. (I'd range to guess NASCAR had a few thoughts on the idea, too.)

NEUTRAL: Front Row Racing is David Ragan's new home, the team announced Monday. I wish I could tell you that will turn out well for Ragan, but the sponsorship questions are still there and Ragan might not race every race. It's a long fall from Roush Fenway Racing, and one that you hate to see for a guy as nice as Ragan. Mark that on your "Ones to Watch" list for early 2012.

HOT: We're just 39 days from the 2012 Daytona 500, and just 11 days from the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Get your Sunday chores done early, folks. See you next week.

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