CUP: Duels, 500 To Feature More Aggressive Driving

Article by Jeff Owens,

Greg Biffle initially thought a flat tire caused him to get hit Saturday night, causing a wreck on the final lap of the Budweiser Shootout. Upon further review, Biffle said, it was a case of Jeff Gordon getting a bit too aggressive.

Gordon hit Biffle from behind during the green-white-checkered finish, causing the Roush Fenway Racing driver to spin and igniting a multicar crash that caused several drivers to wreck.

“I wasn’t sure what happened until I saw the tape and saw the replay,” Biffle said. “Upon further review of the tape, it appears that the 24 was against the bumper when I entered the corner, so it’s obvious why the car spun out, I think.” Asked if Biffle had talked to him about the incident, Gordon said with a laugh, "Yeah, he was thanking me for pushing him. “I was pretty aggressive down that back straightaway. I felt bad that I spun him out. … I was giving him one heck of a push and it was sort of one of those pushes where this is either going to get us to the front or it's going to cause a wreck. And it was the latter instead." With NASCAR lifting its restrictions on bump-drafting and with a bigger restrictor-plate giving the cars more horsepower, drivers are expected to be much more aggressive in Sunday’s Daytona 500. That could also lead to more aggressive racing in Thursday’s two Gatorade Duel qualifying races, which help set the field for the Daytona 500. Only 24 of the 54 drivers trying to make the Daytona 500 were in Saturday’s Shootout. Of those, 15 do not have guaranteed starting spots and are vying for four spots in the 500 that will be determined through the two Duels. The two 150-mile qualifying races are generally tame compared to the Shootout and the Daytona 500, but that could change this year with the new rules package and with drivers trying to see how far they push things in the draft. There were two multicar crashes and two more spins in Wednesday’s practice sessions as drivers prepared for the Duels. “I think there are going to be a lot of guys who are going to get their eyes opened up to what the cars drive like, what they feel like,” Ryan Newman, driver of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 39 Chevrolet, said. “We will see who can control them and who can’t.” “I think with the bigger plate and the fact that the cars suck up easier, it is making us more impatient,” said Jimmie Johnson, who had to go to a backup car after the four-time Cup champion was involved in one of the crashes in practice. “We all have these big runs and you are letting off the gas and you know that if there is an opening there, you are going to take advantage of it. But you are stuck two-by-two and nowhere to go. I think there is a good chance you will see more aggression.” Bump-drafting is not only an accepted practice now, but looks to be a necessity in order to advance through the field and get to the front. The fear is that it occurs in the corners, which likely will lead to a crash like the Biffle-Gordon incident Saturday night. “Some guys tried it at the end of the Shootout and it clearly doesn’t work at this track,” Johnson said. “On the straightaway, you can do the bump drafting, but the cars are so on edge and there is so little grip here compared to Talladega, that I don’t think that the bump drafting in the corners, you just can’t do it. “You can try it, but you are going to have a big pile up like we did.” “I think we’re gonna continue to be pretty aggressive with it,” Biffle said. “Everything I saw on Saturday night was pretty aggressive, but, yet, everybody kind of maintained control. “I saw a few times when there was concrete flying, when a guy pushed somebody and they kind of got squirrelly and hit the outside wall. … So we were pushing like hell and we were doing all we could do. I think you’re gonna continue to see us be aggressive like that.’ Though he was the guilty party Saturday night, Gordon is also warning drivers against bump-drafting in the corners. “It's 'bump-pushing' almost here because you can't do it in the corners, you can only do it on the straightaways,” he said. “We saw a lot of that happening as the laps wound down and you'll see more of that, not so much on Thursday, but on Sunday, absolutely. It's the Daytona 500. You'll see plenty of it." Johnson and others hope they don’t see much of it on Thursday as most drivers are racing only to determine their Daytona 500 starting spots and to shake down their cars for Sunday. “I don’t think anyone wants to tear up their cars even though they might be locked in,” Johnson said. “I think it will be like you have seen in the past with the race on Thursday. You put so much work and effort in to that primary car, you don’t want to tear it up.”•New Ford horsepower has Richard Petty Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne smiling after Budweiser Shootout