Duel takeaways: Were ill-handling cars evidence of a lack of practice time?

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nascar/sprint/drivers/3791/" data-ylk="slk:William Byron">William Byron</a> (24) loses control of his car before tapping the wall on the front stretch during the first of two qualifying races for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
William Byron (24) loses control of his car before tapping the wall on the front stretch during the first of two qualifying races for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Welcome to the 2018 season and welcome back to our post-race takeaways column. Per usual, we’ll have some random thoughts to espouse after Cup Series races and this column will be the landing spot for them. Can you believe the season has already started?!

• There were a lot of sketchy cars during Thursday night Duel races.

Drivers hit the track for the 150-mile qualifying races without any practice between Sunday’s qualifying session and the qualifying races. That’s new. Teams have typically gotten time on the track on Wednesday and Thursday but didn’t in 2018 thanks to a new Cup Series rule that limits cars to a single engine. Previously teams were able to change engines on their cars during Speedweeks without penalty.

[Ryan Blaney wins Duel No. 1]

Add in the new engine rule’s effect on practice time with new ride-height rules that have changed the handling characteristics of the cars and you’ve got a possible explanation for the squirrelly cars you saw throughout the evening.

In the first Duel race, William Byron and David Gilliland each spun and hit the wall after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. attempted to pass them. Stenhouse didn’t make contact with either driver, he just took the air off the cars’ spoilers as he dove out from behind to attempt passes.

“Their cars weren’t driving good and we worked on our car in drafting practice and got it driving good,” Stenhouse said. “We opted to get it driving good rather than qualify on the front row. I think that paid off so I could do whatever I wanted and maneuver as quick as I wanted left and right. That is what I was doing out there, just trying to work my way to the front and pull them back so I could get a hole to fill in.”

[Chase Elliott wins Duel No. 2]

Significant portions of both races were run single-file.

“The thing that is hard to show is just how big a handful the cars are. You are kind of protecting your own self,” Clint Bowyer said.

Sunday’s race is forecast to be run in warmer temperatures and sunny conditions, so the track won’t be as conducive to well-handling cars. If teams are still struggling to find the handle on their cars throughout practices on Friday and Saturday, don’t be surprised if much of the 500 is run single-file as drivers bide their time to make moves with cars that aren’t stable.

• With 40 cars entered for 40 spots in the Daytona 500, the Duel races didn’t have the drama they usually have with teams in danger of missing the race. Sure, there were crashes and some intriguing moments of strategy as drivers timed their moves, but the races felt like an evening of going through the motions during Speedweeks.

If car counts continue to dwindle, have the Duel races run its course? Even if 42 or 43 cars show up for the 2019 Daytona 500, there will be just four spots up for grabs among the cars that don’t have charters. With 50 or more cars showing up for the Daytona 500, the Duels are a viable event. If barely-full fields are going to be a trend, then maybe it’s time to explore different qualifying options.

• One of the 40 cars in the field is BK Racing, fielding the No. 23 car for Gray Gaulding. BK has a charter and was guaranteed a spot in Sunday’s race by virtue of it.

Before the Duel races Thursday the team filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a North Carolina court. An asset hearing was set for the day of the Duels as Union Bank & Trust says the team owes millions of dollars.

The bankruptcy filing will conceivably allow the team to operate in the short term as the bank won’t immediately seize the team’s assets. But given the drama surrounding the backmarker team in the early weeks of 2018, we’ve got serious doubts BK Racing makes it to the end of season in its current form.

If it doesn’t make it to the end of the season, the charter could go back to NASCAR or whoever is deemed to be the legal owner of it. NASCAR said in a statement to NBC That BK was still the owner of its charter.

“We have a clear process around charter member governance. It is incumbent upon charter members to be ready to race and compete at the highest level. BK Racing remains the holder of the Charter.”


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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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