Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – TALLADEGA, AL – When Austin Dillon drove his No. 3 Richard Children Racing Chevrolet to victory in the season-opening Daytona 500, he broke a string of three Ford wins at the Birthplace of Speed.
At Talladega Superspeedway, site of Sunday’s GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Ford drivers have won five straight races. That’s another streak Dillon would like to end.
But he knows he’ll have plenty of competition, in part because teams have made progress with the no-ride-height rules package for restrictor-plate tracks.
“Yeah, I think people have gotten better since Daytona,” Dillon said. “I feel like people have figured out the package probably more than they have since Daytona.”
In Friday’s practice, however, Dillon couldn’t get a solid gauge on the performance of his car because drafting partners were sparse.
“The runs, the packs never got big enough today to really feel the runs,” Dillon said. “I had one run (with) the No. 31 (Ryan Newman) and No. 43 (Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace, Jr.) down the backstretch and it seemed to push me pretty far out in front of the group. So I think there will be some big runs come Sunday.
“I think it will be another one of those races where what do you decide to do? Do you decide to be aggressive and race, or do you make it to the end? Strategy will play a big part of it, but I think there will be quite a few cars that will swap for the lead.
“It seems like there’s a wide variety of fast cars. I saw the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) – they looked pretty good. The No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) looked fast. There are a lot of different guys that seem to have speed. The No. 43 had some speed, too. There will be some guys there come Sunday swapping for it for sure.”
NASCAR SHRINKS RESTRICTOR-PLATE OPENINGS AFTER JAMIE McMURRAY’S CRASH
Roughly 10 minutes into final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, Jamie McMurray cut the left-rear tire of his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
The car turned sideways and was launched into the air when Ryan Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet broad-sided McMurray’s machine, which barrel-rolled down the backstretch and clipped the inside catch fence before it landed upright.
McMurray had just run the fastest lap in Happy Hour, a speed of 203.975 mph that stood up for the rest of the session. After McMurray got airborne, however, NASCAR announced a reduction in the size of the restrictor-plate openings from 7/8ths of inch to 55/64ths, a difference of 1/64th.
The new specs, designed to slow the Cup cars, went into effect for Saturday’s qualifying session and for Sunday’s GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The smaller openings should reduce the engine output by approximately 15 horsepower.
DID ARCA RACE PRODUCE THE CLOSEST STOCK CAR FINISH EVER?
After Friday’s announcement that NASCAR was adding the ARCA Racing Series to its portfolio, ARCA drivers Zane Smith and Joe Graf Jr. finished off an overtime duel in the General Tire 200 that may have produced the closest finish in modern stock car racing history.
Smith edged Graf by roughly one centimeter at the stripe, requiring a photo finish before the winner could be determined. Because ARCA timing and scoring is limited to hundredths of a second, the monitors in the media center showed a dead heat.
ARCA officials estimated a difference of .0029 seconds, but it was closer than that. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona in February, Tyler Reddick beat Elliott Sadler to the finish line by .0004 seconds, another estimate, given that NASCAR timing measures differences to thousandths of a second but not beyond.
The physical difference at the line between Reddick’s and Sadler’s cars was approximately three inches. The margin between Smith and Graf was smaller, no matter what the numbers might say.