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Two-car drafts back for Talladega

Talladega NASCAR practiceThe two-car packs seen at Daytona look set to make a return in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega.

Although rain followed by severe weather in the area only allowed drivers to complete one of the two practice sessions scheduled for Friday, it is clear that the new style of racing at restrictor-plate tracks, first seen at Daytona in January, will once again be the norm this weekend.

Most drivers ran in tandems during the first practice session of the day, many of them selecting to run with their team-mates, while others tried different drafting partners.

The Stewart Haas Racing tandem of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman was actually the fastest during the day, followed by the one of reigning champion Jimmie Johnson and Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch.

Multiple restrictor-plate race winner Kevin Harvick believes Talladega's wider layout relative to Daytona will only make the technique easier to apply than in the season opener.

"I think that the style of the race is going to be very similar to what you saw at Daytona but when they dropped the green flag at Daytona it was hard to race in the pack and it's hard to keep the cars connected and we saw a lot of wrecks because of the fact that the cars were pulling up on groups of cars and you didn't have anywhere to go," said the Richard Childress driver.

"Here you have a lot more space so it might be easier for that but I still think it's going to be very similar to Daytona."

Johnson believes that drivers were able to master and evolve the new drafting technique on the new Daytona asphalt in February, where teams also found ways to improve cooling on the cars to allow drivers to push each other for longer. Drivers also discovered how to best do exchanges in the tandem order without losing too much speed and momentum.

"The drivers have learned how to work this better," said Johnson. "When we were here last fall we all knew it was possible but we felt like we had a lap and half to push and then you would get so far ahead and at that point when you would have to break up the pack would gobble you up and run you over.

"So we saw some guys trying to work on the exchanges and when we left here it was pretty obvious if you focused on the exchange and kept changing position over time you could march away from the field.

"I just feel that a lot of people did their homework following the fall race here and when we went to Daytona every team and every driver was geared up and ready. So it's been an evolution of things."

Harvick's team-mate Clint Bowyer, the last winner at Talladega, believes the new technique also allows drivers to be more in control than when running in big packs, where the slightest contact may end up igniting the infamous 'big one' multi-car accidents. That is despite the visibility issues for the driver pushing in the tandem.

"The two car breakaways and things like that enable you to control your destiny a whole lot more," said Bowyer. "You aren't bunched up three and four wide and you can get out, and stay out front and stay out of trouble.

"And if you don't like your situation you can radio over to your team-mate or to your partner and say, 'let's get the hell out of here, they are fixing to wreck'."

Six-time Talladega winner Jeff Gordon believes the new style of racing to be the biggest breakthrough seen at Daytona and Talladega since the restrictors were introduced in 1989.

"Ever since we've started going to a bigger, boxier type racecar what that has done is create more of a draft," said Gordon. "We've got a little bit more power too so between the draggier car and the more power it's definitely changes how easily the cars draft up to one another but also you can lose the draft a lot easier.

"In some ways it's easier to pass but still very difficult to win. But now it's a whole other ball game with the two-car drafting. That's the most drastic change that we've seen in restrictor-plate racing in my opinion since the restrictor plate came along."

Although many drivers are expected to work with their team-mates and are able to communicate among themselves during the race through their radios, some believe once the closing laps of the race arrive, they may end up drafting with another driver.

"The only person I really want to have on the radio is [Earnhardt Ganassi team-mate] Jamie [McMurray] because that was the focus, in the [Daytona] 500 that was the focus," said Juan Pablo Montoya, third in his last two races at Talladega.

"I would assume as a team, we are going to do the same here. I'm not 100 per cent sure. You plan so much and everything and I end up pushing Kurt Busch at the of the race. I don't know.

"You plan everything and you get to a restart and the guy in front of you is a different guy. You can either go, there are always choices. You make a decision and sometimes you make the right ones and sometimes you make the wrong one. But, I always try to be very loyal."

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