They took away downforce and said the racing should be better.
In 2015. And ‘16. And ’17. And ’18.
The push toward less downforce and cars that were more difficult to drive was supposed to result in better racing and more passing opportunities and more lead changes for teams competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Then why after all that time and effort, not to mention money, is NASCAR going to a rules package next year that is on the opposite end of the spectrum?
The 2019 package, announced earlier this week, will increase downforce on the cars at all venues through the use of a taller spoiler and changes to the radiator pan and splitter on the front of the cars.
Aerodynamic ducts located in the front facia area will be required at 16 tracks and will have an impact as well.
Additionally, NASCAR will do away with restrictor plates following next year’s Daytona 500 and rely on the use of tapered spacers, which likewise reduce airflow, to help control speeds. Spacers will restrict horsepower to 550 at tracks greater than one mile while a larger version will allow for up to 750 hp at tracks one mile or less and road courses.
More downforce and slower speeds at 21 of 36 stops next season.
It’s not the first time NASCAR officials have traveled down this path. In 2015, a higher downforce package was used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway.
The results were disappointing. Enlightening perhaps but ridiculed by fans and dismissed by drivers.
Meanwhile, a low downforce package was used at Kentucky and Darlington that year and showed promise. Thus, the march toward less downforce began in earnest.
Three years later, determining if the racing has improved depends on what one is using as factors. Lead changes? Those numbers have fallen almost every year since NASCAR rolled out the Generation 6 car in 2013. The number of race winners? There have been nine since 2014, including two more this season.
Recent races have been both competitive and memorable. Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval got high marks last weekend for both the use of the infield road course and what transpired on the race track. The Night Race at Bristol, the race at Watkins Glen, even Chicago, a 1.5-mile track, were praised for their on-track action.
Then why move away from a package that has gone through so much development and appears to be providing a better product? Because TV ratings and attendance numbers aren’t what they were a decade or more ago?
The ’19 rules package will be similar to what was used in this year’s All-Star Race and Open qualifying race at CMS.
Here are a few things that stood out from those events:
• There were six cars battling for the top spot on the final lap of the Open.
• There was plenty of two- and three-wide racing early in the All-Star Race and racing for positions throughout the event; drivers were getting big runs off the turns to catch those in front of them and attempt/make passes.
• Tire wear was big.
• While Kevin Harvick dominated the final stage, there was a lot of side-by-side racing immediately behind him.
On the other hand, the All-Star Race was only 80 laps – there are longer stages in some Cup races.
Also, it was the first opportunity for teams to race with that package. Give them months to work with it and find the edges and the haves will once again separate themselves from the have-nots. That will happen no matter what rules package is rolled out.
The All-Star Race was a snapshot when what NASCAR needs is an entire photo album.
Next year they’ll get it.
Will the racing be better? We’re told it should be.