Will there be tandem racing or won’t there be tandem racing?

TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 26: Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Dow Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

When NASCAR opted for a tapered spacer instead of a restrictor plate at superspeedways—and added roughly 100 horsepower to the Monster Energy Cup Series cars—there was speculation that the rules changes, which included raising the rear spoiler from eight to nine inches, might produce a return to tandem racing.

After a day of practice at Talladega Superspeedway, the prospect of one car pushing another for extended periods seemed far more remote. For one thing, the noses of the Cup cars don’t line up conveniently with the rear bumpers, especially with the addition of a bumper extension.

For another, the noses of the cars are softer and less durable than they were when tandem racing was the fastest way to navigate Talladega seven years ago.

Richard Childress Racing driver Daniel Hemric, currently second in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, said locking onto the bumper of the car ahead of him was a near impossibility.

“The tandem deal, I never even came close to,” said Hemric, who qualified fifth for Sunday’s race. “I can get close to somebody’s back bumper, but never lock on. The speed, you just feel the engine is the biggest thing. You feel it when you leave pit road, how fast you get up to speed. We did one mock qualifying run, and it was very interesting to see the data and the miles per hour from when typically you start a lap here in the past, and your momentum is still building, and getting to pit road was huge.

“I think they said our mile per hour was faster coming to the green than it was when I finished my lap. That means the cars get up to speed really quick and just a lot of constant RPMs is what we’re seeing out of the engine so we’re asking a lot out of our builders right now. ECR is doing a great job with that but it feels fast. That’s what we like, right?”

To address the high RPMs, NASCAR added a one-inch wicker to the rear spoiler after first practice and allowed teams the latitude to choose between two gear ratios.