Believe it or not, we're only five races away from the 2012 Daytona 500. And while a new Daytona is always a reason for happiness and joy, this year there's plenty of trepidation as we've just come through yet another 2x2 restrictor-plate debacle. And this time, we've got the specter of "team orders" now in the mix.
You know the deal by now. At the two restrictor plate tracks, because of the smoothness of the pavement, cars are able to align more closely and push one another around the track at a far higher rate of speed than a single car traveling alone. Technical changes, such as increasing the size of the restrictor plate and the sensitivity of the radiator's pop-off valve, had almost no effect on the tandem racing this past weekend. Combine that with the fact that you had teams either intentionally or unintentionally sabotaging the runs of competitors, and you've got one hell of a mess.
So what's NASCAR to do? Let's run down a few possibilities. Removing the restrictor plate is one of the more common, and most ridiculous, ideas out there. The restrictor plate is there to keep the cars from sailing into the stands; that's not going anywhere. Altering the shape of the bumpers so the cars don't align as neatly is a possibility. So too is simply outlawing bumper-to-bumper racing, though that could lead to a dull freight train of cars as we've seen in recent years at Talladega.
Now, though, NASCAR appears serious about making substantive changes to the cars in time for the 2012 Daytona 500. As ESPN.com noted, one possibility is the smaller spoiler that was used at a fuel injection test at Talladega last week; drivers reported that the smaller spoiler caused more difficulties in drafting and hooking up.
Regardless, fans have to understand that the acknowledgement that all is not perfect is a step forward, even if it's a small one. The tandem racing appeared to take everyone by surprise, from drivers to officials to fans, and so the fact that NASCAR is taking a closer look at the process should give hope that Daytona won't be more of the same. Will it be a completely different style of racing, one that could be even worse? Well, we won't know that until next February, but it wouldn't surprise us one bit.