With just over a week until the green flag falls on the Daytona 500 and the 2010 NASCAR the media vehicle of America's de facto biggest racing series is in full swing as a number of the Cup Series' Ford drivers looked ahead to the season.
Perhaps the biggest change ahead of the race is NASCAR's decision to reign back their rules on bump-drafting, moving away from the total ban they enforced days before the race at Talladega last Autumn.
I'm gonna test it. I'm gonna push until somebody spins out,” says Roush Racing's Greg Biffle about getting used to the new rules. “That's the only way to find out. We all know. We're drivers. We know what the limits are.”
“Now that NASCAR has said, 'We're not gonna be the limit,' the limit becomes when the guy in front of you spins out – when you push him too much – so we have to regulate that ourselves. Just like at Talladega when Carl spun me out in the middle of the corner and we wrecked a bunch of cars, that was the limit. NASCAR wasn't enforcing the no bump-drafting and we all wrecked, so we know that's the limit.”
“I'm more comfortable [with the new bump-drafting rule],” he admits.
“I think NASCAR probably not regulating the bump draft stuff as much is probably fine,” adds his Roush teammate and defending Daytona 500 champion, Matt Kenseth. “I think there's still gonna be rough driving penalties if you have that, just like there is at every race, and, really, the drivers do a pretty good job of policing themselves.”
“You've got to race with these guys for 38 weeks and you're not gonna go out and try to wrong somebody on purpose, or try to cause the wreck or do any of that stuff anyway.”
“I may be a little more nervous with some of the other people that I'm gonna be racing with – they don't maybe quite know what the limit is – and, let's face it, as a race car driver, we test the limit every lap, whether we're at California or Vegas.”
“But when you talk about testing the limit at a restrictor plate track, that's different. Testing the limit becomes, 'How much can you push that guy in front of you?' And the limit becomes when he takes off upside-down.”
The Washington native, however, predicts the drivers haven't seen the last of NASCAR's intervention when it comes to the close pack racing on restrictor plate tracks. “I perfectly see them telling people to calm down – there's nothing wrong with saying, 'Calm down.'
The race will also see the cars fitted with a larger restrictor plate, the opposite of the move NASCAR made before the previous Talladega race. The change will give engines more horsepower and drivers better response under acceleration. “Closing rates are gonna be more,” explains Biffle. “[We'll] put a little bit more drag in the car so the car is gonna have a lot more acceleration. You're gonna be able to push the guy better because you're gonna have more throttle. So when you get behind a guy and not have that air on you, but have more power, you'll be able to push better.”
The third of NASCAR's much publicised rule changes, the re-introduction of a rear spoiler, will not be seen at Daytona. “We hope that, besides all that we've done, when the spoiler comes that it takes a little bit different setup, it takes a little bit different spring combination, maybe a little bit different shocks, different attitude of the car. We didn't have enough time to mess with that. Kind of like throwing the towel and starting over a little bit, we hope that will kind of give everybody a chance to start figuring it out over again.”
So could the reappearance of the spoiler be the key to winning the title, what's Biffle's answer to the question everyone really want to know.
How do you beat Jimmie Johnson?
“I don't know. Find him in a dark alley?”