Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… New 2016 NASCAR Rules Package

Editor’s Note: P. Huston Ladner is off this week. In his place steps our king of sarcastic wit, Matt McLaughlin, who puts a positive spin on some NASCAR news as of late.

Happiness Is… A New 2016 NASCAR Rules Package: Looking across the desolate landscape of modern day stock car racing through the thick black smoke of yet another wasted season, watching fellow refugees head for the nearest exit, there might be a few glimmers of sunlight to indicate a new dawn is breaking. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist (they tend to hang out at Florida’s Cape Canaveral, not Daytona Beach to the north) to see the quality of racing at Kentucky and Darlington was far better than most of the races this year. The drivers preferred the new rules package with the lower downforce numbers but more importantly, so did the fans. NASCAR is loath to admit that it made a mistake and that the 2015 rules package was a disaster, but faced with overwhelming evidence (not to mention plummeting TV ratings, attendance, and income), Tuesday they swallowed their pride and announced a new 2016 NASCAR rules package very similar to those two “experimental” events.

For those not familiar with the package, it involves a 3.5-inch rear spoiler and a quarter-inch front leading splitter edge intended to reduce downforce on the car. While the changes will be subtle to casual fans they’re intended to lessen grip for the cars on track. That means the driver out front in the lead with “clean air” on the nose of his mount will no longer have such a great advantage over trailing cars. A driver trying to pass will be able to get up on the rear bumper of his rival and at least, in theory find it easier to make a pass. Lower speeds into the corners will also increase the “passing zones” available to drivers trying to move forward.

NASCAR did increase the size of the radiator pan from the 28 inches used at Kentucky and Darlington to 33 inches due to some concerns about overheating when one car was on the tail of another. NACA ducts (think the hood scoops on a ’69 Shelby) have been added to the right-side “windows” to keep drivers cooler as well after some competitors complained in that regard. Goodyear will be working with the new package for each track in an attempt to find an ideal tire compound that will give up grip over the course of a fuel run.

At least Brian France got to keep his “glass dashboard.” No, you won’t be seeing medics picking shards of glass out of driver’s faces after a wreck. The “glass dashboard” is actually digital gauges rather than analog/mechanical ones. A lot of high-end cars have this sort of dash array these days, and some of them are reconfigurable to drivers’ preferences. It’s NASCAR’s hope you at home will be able to check in on your favorite driver’s dash display, because I know a lot of you spend all afternoon wondering how many amps Junior’s alternator is putting out. I actually get asked this question a lot but no, I don’t think they’ll give the drivers a fuel gauge as part of the new package. With the cars entering banked corners at high speeds it wouldn’t be very reliable anyway, and for whatever reason even Ford can’t even get their street cars from taking forever to go from a full tank… to a half tank… then dropping like a rock to empty. I doubt they’ll add a speedometer either. I think Harry Gant summed it best when it came to speedometers in stock cars; “If I knew how fast I was going,” he said, “I reckon I’d probably slow down.”

NASCAR also announced they are tweaking the rules package for Talladega and Daytona, letting the teams run roller camshafts rather than solid lifters. That would yield between 10-15 horsepower (and the 1985 and up Fox body Mustangs ran roller cams so this isn’t cutting edge) but NASCAR is also reducing the restrictor-plate openings 1/64th of an inch. I kid you not.

Will every race next year be an instant classic with the new rules package? I doubt it. Will there be some teething pains as teams make the switch? Almost certainly. But at least there’s a valid attempt to make the races better for the fans. Those of you ready to pack your bags might want to consider sticking around for a couple months next year to see how it plays out. Now, about this Chase mess….

Ever the negative Nancy, I’m still wondering if NASCAR is waiting until no one is paying attention before adding restrictor plates to some of the larger oval tracks like Michigan, Fontana, and Pocono while no one is watching. But like I said in this case I think I’ll live fearlessly…with all due caution. As it stands written in the Book of Bruce…

Leave behind your sorrows,
Let this day be the last,
We’ll take what we can carry,
And we’ll leave the past…

Happiness Is… Reset Priorities: Former Cup driver Marcos Ambrose announced this week he will no longer race full-time. Ambrose competed in the Cup Series for seven years, scoring just two victories at the winding road course of Watkins Glen. In what was then the Busch Series, he won four additional times at the Glen and added another victory at the road course in Montreal. No, Ambrose bubble gum cards probably aren’t drawing big bucks on eBay, but during his time with us he was always friendly and cooperative. The Tasmanian also possessed a good sense of humor, at least when you could make out what he was saying.

The adjustment from “Down Under” to the U.S. had to be huge. Ambrose’s internal clock was a full day ahead of ours and when he first jumped in a Cup car and he had to be thinking, “the steering wheel is on the wrong side, mate.” Still, Ambrose proclaimed himself pleased with his racing career, open to co-driving endurance events to scratch that itch and ready with the next chapter of his life focused on new priorities. On one level, you always hate to see a colorful character leaving the sport but I’ve been following racing long enough to know the downside. It’s great that Ambrose is able to leave the sport in good health and good spirits rather than be carried to his final resting place like so many before him.

Happiness Is… Social Media. Well, whomever came up with the term “social media” must not have spent a lot of time on our (or many other) message boards, comment sections and Twitter. The electronic village can be a rather hostile place. But as autumn makes me reflective I spent some time the other day remembering this time of year back in 1992 when Davey Allison, Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki were engaged in an epic title bout. Sure, I had my buddies who followed racing but the thought one day I’d be able to fire up the old PC (it would have been difficult in that I didn’t have one and I don’t think they’d even been invented yet) and communicate and debate with other fans in North Carolina and North Dakota or Alabama and Alaska with a few quick keystrokes would have seemed like science fiction to me.

The ability to fire up the computer and have all the latest news in the sport in seconds (thanks Jayski for all these good years) would have been a pipe dream. And maybe despite the nasty tone of some tweeters (is that what you call them?) maybe NASCAR started touring the back allies of the electronic village as well. Back in the day, if you wanted to voice your displeasure with NASCAR about all you could do is write a letter and mail it to them. (Or burn it in the backyard with the leaves which would have had the same effect.) But now that fans can rally together electronically (sometimes hiding behind silly screen names) we can make ourselves heard. Yeah, I’ve heard some writers say only the discontent fans use Twitter and the “silent majority” of fans think everything is swell, but those are the folks most often accused of being “Kool-Aid drinkers,” “drones,” and “Jerry Jordan” on Twitter. Yep, things have changed in the media too, racing and otherwise. After a brief stint in the print medium, I sallied forth onto the internet and I’ve been playing this game about 20 years now. Perhaps to even a greater degree than the compliments I’ve been lucky to receive, criticism has made me a better writer. No, it hasn’t swayed my point of view, but listening to opposing points has helped me flesh out my thinking on some topics. Hell, I’m even fairly successful in using “its” and “it’s” appropriately after hearing about it every time I messed up for four or five years.

Yep, for all the talk of the internet isolating us, at times it brings us together as well. And it sure does seem speaking collectively fans can get things done. The only thing that confuses me about thinking back to 1992 is realizing that was 23 years ago – a long time. How is it everyone else got so much older and I haven’t?

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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Well I guess we shall see who was right with the new rules package. This is virtually everything that the most vocal opponents of the COT era cars wanted. Will it be the magic bullet that “saves Nascar”? Or slowly settle back to more of the same.
Guess we shall see.


The engineers at the top team will negate the changes to the aero package. That’s why they get the big bucks.

So the teams can use roller cams and get 15 hp. The restrictor plate opening is reduced losing about 20 hp. Yep, that works. Empty your right pocket, take a bit out and put it in your left.

The Bedrock tires will stay in use because Johnson can’t use soft ones.


I agree with you about Johnson. He sure can’t manage his tires.


Yep. Reduce downforce by rule, then allow the engineers to tweak the bodywork to increase downforce. Makes perfect sense to me.


It must have been really painful for NASCAR to have to make these changes. My biggest issue is that they should have done it earlier in 2015 rather than waste another full season with follow the leader racing. Will it fix everything and make it all wonderful? Probably not. But, if there is a chance that at least some of the races are more enjoyable for the fans, well, that should be considered an improvement.

Matt, your comments about the twitter-verse and other online commenting capability made me smile. It is kind of an amazing thing overall to be able to communicate – some people more politely than others – but at least for a change, it was much more difficult for NASCAR and the media to pretend that everyone loved the racing and the tv coverage. Sure, I know, they would still rather spin it that the majority of people are silent and that it is only the “complainers” who vocalize their commentary. Over the past 15 years, I’ve been fortunate to be able to go to a lot of tracks and well there’s a lot of time waiting around and fans talk to one another. They talk about their favorite driver, teams, who and what they like and who and what they don’t like. Over the past 5 years or so, the common theme among people that I know who “used” to be fervent NASCAR fans has been “what the heck are they doing?” and “why have they ruined the sport?” Many of those fans no longer go to the races and they don’t watch much of the tv broadcasts either. A lot of fans who complained about things not being right early on were slammed on twitter (that continues) and by Moody and his ilk on both social media and on the radio. I used to have a Sirius radio account so I could follow NASCAR, but between them cutting back on the live stuff related to the racing such as qualifying and realizing that my blood pressure was skyrocketing every day when I was listening to either the morning show or whatever Moody’s show is on the way home, since I rather vehemently disagreed with the way they treated the fans — mostly as though anyone who didn’t drink the kool aid was too stupid to be given any credence at all, it just wasn’t worth it to me anymore. So I cancelled my account. Why should I spend $ to be mad at the guy on the radio? The same way that if I didn’t already have NBCSN and FS1 in my cable package, I would not go out and buy it now.

Next year, I’ll be a casual fan since my guy steps out of the car after Homestead. I’m sure that during the winter months, I’ll probably tune in to see the cars go round and round. Maybe the new package will actually allow them to catch and pass one another. What a concept! Will it be enough to get fans to be interested again? As russ says, we’ll see.


we’ll all tune in for daytona 500, but by the 2nd or 3rd week we’ll all go back to the “why bother” mode.

gina – it will be hard to watch and hold interest when you don’t have a fav driver, i know i lost mind in 2001 on the last lap at the 500. never felt alliance with anyone else.

but every year, come what use to be speedweeks, i put the tv on. some habits take a long time to die out. but then, jeff will be in the broadcast booth.


I agree, Janice, that old habits are tough to break. Yes, the upside is Jeff will be in the booth, the downside is that to listen to him, I’ll have to put up with the babbling Waltrips.

One of the reasons I don’t watch the trucks race is because I cannot stand listening to Mikey babble on and on and on.


Happiness is any rule change which favors drivers with great car control. It’s time to put driving skill at the top of the list of factors in winning races. Great news for Kyle Busch, Matt’s all-time favorite punching bag.


remember, i would send you robby gordon fan club stuff and things that i had him sign for you, just cause i knew you were a closet fan!



It also requires to know when to fold ’em and that means Kyle’s out.


Out of what, Donin? We are talking about 2016 rules here.

And I’m not going to count any of the 12 Chasers out of this year’s championship yet, either.


1992 was a great argument for the Chase format. Winner-take-all makes a lot more sense than cruising for points.

Bill B

Actually I think your ping pong idea would be more fair than the current system.


Problem is I WAS watching, so I know the self-proclaimed “Underbird” won a grand total of TWO races that season and made absolutely no effort to win at Atlanta. I would have been OK with the old system if they had simply added a significant reward for winning – like 5 or 10 bonus points.


Glad about the change to reduced downforce. However, wish they would also take Kenseth’s suggestion of getting rid of the driver’s ability to make track bar adjustments. There should be a price to pay for making the wrong adjustments on a pit stop and/or abusing ones tires early on.


Well Matt I gotta disagree as I don’t need to see any more restrictor plate events then we have now…No interest in pack racing(contrary to brians thoughts) & once theres no requirement for using brakes ,its no longer racing IMHO…(also don’t need to watch 12-18 cars wrecking at once)…While I welcome any down force reduction (don’t think we need a larger radiator pan as other ventilation options are there) & would think anything put on these cars to get any relation to OEM would be welcome by all the manufactures…Heck I’d love to see the rear spoiler at 2.5″ & front cut in half…But brian will probably try to screw this up & then say “see I was right” …We all saw the improvement at Kentucky (best race there since it opened)..Marcos Ambrose was the only one from that era of the crossover drivers to not come here & crash everyone while he learned these cars(Thx Penske for hornish & how did we all survive((it’s not my fault” Pablum montoya)) Etc) Ambrose drove for a 3rd tier team & never really had a chance…Note: Glad to see Blaney doing well & getting a shot as I always thought his dad was a great talent who never drove for any one with half decent equipment. Sure a shame their going to lose so many fans while they force this dull aero racing down our throats to the end…Let Em Drive!


Cynical I know but I really don’t care what they do. The result will still bear NO relation whatsoever to production vehicles and besides history tells us the rules will change week to week anyway. I watched very little this year and felt cheated when I did. Next year I plan to watch even less if at all. Sometimes it is hard to admit to oneself that the party is over. The tapered “it’s not a restrictor plate” spacer bothers me more than all the in race fixing. Will the last one out please turn out the lights.

Carl D.

My guess is that Brian France would take complete credit for the new low downforce package if only he could speak coherently.


hahaha! so true


Matt, glad you are semi-retired, because if you relied on NASCAR for a living you probably be unemployed soon enough.
There are no stock cars. Just the modified COT cars. There is no tweeting of engineering by the manufacturer to achieve an advantage. It is a bunch of over paid………soon not to be paid very much……..mirror type drivers.
The mirror drivers drive the mirror cars. How thrilling. Give me GT racing any day.


Everything you say, or imply about low buck road racing is true. From the SCCA club racers with no spectators up to the Pro TransAm series with real race cars and semi-pro crews. All expense and little tangible return. And like Nascar there are a few of the haves and a whole lot of the have nots. But I sure miss those days. Not so much for the racing but for the authenticity. (Probably like a lot of short tracks still trying to survive I suppose) Where not everything is about marketing and return on investment.
And the memories still make me alternately laugh and cuss. Guess at the end of the day thats all you can hope for.

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