Bayne’s Situation Nothing New In Plate Racing And The Draft
It’s been suggested by many that Trevor Bayne ease up on himself following the circumstances in which he was involved at Talladega.
After all, he didn’t do anything wrong.
Bayne expressed abject dissatisfaction with himself, and others, when he abandoned Jeff Gordon in the Good Sam Club 500’s high-speed draft to assist fellow Ford driver and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
Bayne, who races part-time for the Wood Brothers but is under contract to Roush, was distressed that he could not keep an arrangement with Gordon that would allow the two drivers to remain hooked up in a two-car draft until the end of the race, only two laps away.
Instead, Bayne maintained he was “strong armed” to assist Kenseth and added that he would never be put in such a situation again.
Prior to the race, persistent rumors suggested that Ford officials had told their drivers that in the “dancing partner” draft, that is now prevalent at Talladega and Daytona, they should work with other Ford drivers only.
Do not assist any other driver with any other manufacturer.
Jamie Allison, director of Ford racing, has denied such orders were ever issued. He said the only time the matter of Ford drivers helping Ford drivers arose was in conversations before the race. If it could be done, it should in order to show appreciation for their relationships with Ford Motorsports.
Added Allison in a published report, “At the end of the day, when you look at it, it’s very cut and dry. Trevor did what he needed to help a teammate.”
Which is correct. When Kenseth lost drafting partner David Ragan, Bayne felt obligated. He had no choice. He had to abandon Gordon, even if the end results might have been better.
Kenseth came to Talladega as a strong challenger for the championship after his victory in Charlotte. He was in third place, two spots behind leader and Roush teammate Carl Edwards, in the standings.
With a good finish at Talladega Kenseth could have pressed the championship issue. But that would never happen without a drafting partner.
So Bayne was his man. And, as said, Bayne had no choice.
If he had stuck with Gordon while Kenseth lost position after position, what kind of post-race reception do you think Bayne would have received from team owner Jack Roush – not to mention from Kenseth and his No. 17 team?
As a young driver striving to solidify a career in Sprint Cup racing, Bayne wisely avoided any confrontation with the team that has, to date, offered him his best competitive opportunity.
To me, the entire issue is something of a tempest in a teapot. It’s certainly not unique. In fact, when it comes to restrictor-plate racing and the draft – no matter how many cars are involved – this sort of thing has been part of NASCAR for decades.
It’s all meshed into the strategy and, perhaps more so, the politics required in plate racing and the draft.
One of the vital keys to success at Daytona and Talladega is to find the right drafting partner. It’s always been that way.
Naturally, teammates want to help each other – and should. They work with each other many times over practice sessions to determine if they can find the combination that clicks. Sometimes they do. Many more times they don’t.
If things don’t work a team’s next task it to find another with which it can potentially win the race.
Little thought is given to what team that could be. More important, the model of car it uses doesn’t matter one bit.
If a team with a Chevrolet finds that in the draft its highest speeds are turned with another that fields a Ford – and the Ford team likes the results as well – then a deal is made. They will hook up in the draft for as long as possible.
Call it diplomacy or politics, that’s how it has always worked.
While I’m fully aware that manufacturers have issued edicts from time to time, I don’t think any one of them has been stupid enough to decree that teams with their models must help each other only in the draft.
That includes Ford, incidentally, and is why I believe Allison.
For a manufacturer to make such a mandate could potentially remove any chance at victory. You can bet a team that posted its fastest laps drafting with another with a different model is going to be highly irritated. So is the driver.
The goal is to win. It’s what racing is all about. It’s what the team owner wants, the driver wants, the team wants and, most important, what the sponsor wants.
Manufacturers know all this because victory is what they also crave. Wins can provide a heckuva lot of successful sales pitches at the dealerships.
So never expect a manufacturer to make a decree that could cramp any of its teams’ styles. It makes no sense.
Drafting is all about partnerships. And any two drivers can be partners for a single race. There have been some unlikely combinations in many past plate races but sometimes they worked to near perfection – as it was for Bayne and Gordon in this year’s Daytona 500, won by Bayne.
But at other times, for many reasons, as good as the combination might be circumstances force a change.
It might be due to what is unfolding on the track. Or, indeed, it might be due to politics.
But it has happened and will continue to happen. In the future there will be a driver who, at the end of a plate race, will feel every bit as frustrated as Bayne.
It’s plate racing. It’s the draft. It is what it has been, is now and will be.