Slip-streaming in cycle races saves a lot of energy by shielding the follower from a head wind.
A sacrificial meteoroid precedes the re-entering spacecraft. It directs the hot plasma away from it. As it burns up it also slows. The spacecraft stays behind and deploys retro-rockets as and when necessary. The spacecraft shelters in the slipstream until velocity is low enough to survive on its own.
Would this work for re-entry, at least in theory?