NASCAR was ahead of its time.
Well before Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin made “conscious uncoupling” mainstream, NASCAR introduced the Gen-6 racecar in 2013 and consciously uncoupled the tandem draft, which had been prevalent at its two restrictor-plate racetracks – Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – since 2011.
The new car’s uneven front and rear bumpers made the practice of tandem drafting almost impossible, as the nose of a car pushing against the lead car’s rear bumper didn’t match up, and if the issue was especially forced, the lead car would be sent spinning. It ended up creating a strained relationship.
After having consciously uncoupled for more than a year, NASCAR drivers are, in many ways, closer than they’ve ever been now that old-school, pack-style racing is back as a fundamental component of restrictor-plate racing.
While drivers still seek space and respect as they operate within the 200 mph freight train that is the draft, they continue in the same manner they always have despite oftentimes three-wide racing among a stream of racecars. Winning is the ultimate goal, where separation at the end of the race, preferably while in first place with the start/finish line inches away, is plotted in advance and executed with abandon.
At Talladega, site of the Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, Stewart has enjoyed the spoils of victory twice, both in 2008. The first came in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in April when Stewart won from the pole, leading five times for a race-high 81 laps in the 117-lap race. The second came in the Sprint Cup Series in October when Stewart outdueled Regan Smith for the win in a green-white-checkered finish.
While Stewart has merely dabbled in the Nationwide Series, making only six Talladega starts in the undercard series, he’s made 29 starts in the elite Sprint Cup Series. More often than not, Stewart has successfully worked the draft and positioned himself well for a win amid the last-lap chaos that is racing at Talladega. He has six second-place finishes, tying him with Buddy Baker for the most runner-up finishes at Talladega. Additionally, Stewart has nine top-fives, 13 top-10s and 317 laps led. He’s also completed all but 126 of the 5,492 laps available to him since coming to Talladega as a rookie in April 1999.
The 2.66-mile oval in eastern Alabama beckons Stewart again as he hunts for his first catch of the 2014 season. In his signature No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart is ready to join teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch as 2014 race winners.
With a car honed in the wind tunnel coupled with Stewart’s savvy behind the wheel thanks to 16 years of racing at NASCAR’s highest level, Stewart is conscious that the Aaron’s 499 could deliver him career Sprint Cup win No. 49.