As Joey Logano crossed the start-finish line to complete lap 200 of the Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, the first test of a new lower-downforce package for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series came to a close.
The package, implemented for Michigan and the July 9 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, included a reduction in spoiler height from 3.5 inches to 2.5 inches, a splitter reduction of two inches and a re-sizing of the rear deck fin to complement the spoiler change.
In their opening test, drivers complained of handling woes. Straightaway speeds escalated to over 220 mph before drivers slowed by as much as 40 mph to get through Michigan’s wide turns.
Restarts went three, and sometimes even four-wide, as the field slid around each other, and with the close groups came multiple cautions. In all, nine yellow flags fell on the day, with six of them coming as a result of the hard racing.
Even pole-sitter and eventual winner Logano struggled with the handle of his No. 22 Ford, calling it “stupid loose” after sliding up the track at the start of the race.
Following the race, opinions were varied amongst the NASCAR paddock, though the majority of their thoughts leaned positive .
After falling out early, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. offered little on their take. Busch claimed he wasn’t out long enough to give his opinion.
“I wouldn’t give it a fair assessment,” Busch said.
Earnhardt claimed not to have seen much of a difference, though he later claimed to have made the comments out of anger.
“It’s not a whole lot different than the other package,” Earnhardt said. “I think we talk about packages too much.”
After running up front for much of the day, third-place finisher Kyle Larson didn’t believe he’d been in the pack enough to give a fair assessment.
“I don’t know. Honestly I can’t give you an opinion on how the racing was just because I was kind of up front through all of it,” Larson said.
The strongest praises for the package came from veterans Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, whom each worked their way past competitors in the late stage of the race to finish just outside of the top five.
“I love it,” said Stewart after a seventh-place finish. “I absolutely love it. The package is good. The aero package is starting to catch up now. The whole equation to this is to make it where everybody wants to it equally about tires and aero. Up to this point, Goodyear has been way ahead of NASCAR. NASCAR is finally catching up… Today we got to drive the cars. We got to make a difference in the car and manipulate things.”
“I applaud NASCAR for taking downforce away and the speeds are still so high because the surface is good and the Goodyear tires are good, and everybody is working hard on their cars,” Edwards said after leading Toyota with sixth-place run. “They just keep working in this direction and we’re going to keep having better and better races.”
After winning the race, Logano claimed the racing was fun, though notably risky for drivers.
“You know, the cars are out of control,” Logano said. “No doubt, they are out of control crazy, and it makes it a lot of fun, but you’ve got to think of you’re going in that pack a little but you’re going faster down the straightaways, you’re getting a huge draft when cars are side-by-side in front of you, and you have no downforce at all, especially when you’re three wide and your angles are off going into the corner and you’re trying to clear them.
“Everybody is racing hard. It’s a recipe for disaster. I haven’t re-watched it and haven’t seen much, but I thought the race was pretty good.”
Perhaps the most interesting view on the package came from Denny Hamlin, who offered his advice for how to tweak it moving forward after crashing out of the race on lap 188.
“I think it definitely could be tweaked a little bit,” said Hamlin. “I think that this thing is biased a little more off the rear than the front is so either take some more front off – that would be my guess is to take a little more front downforce away, but I think overall we’ve got something good here that is fun.”
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LOVED this aero-package (& NOT just bcuz the good guys won). Thank sweet baby Jesus they tanked that high-drag farce! I think today was the first time they got the type of racing they have been looking for since they started tweaking last season. The new ’16 aero has improved most races, but none more so than today’s newer-est aero. This is what they have bee trying to accomplish & to me finally was a very good representation of a return to days when passing & racing could be done, & results were much more in the driver’s hands, instead of being so dependent on track position & fuel strategy. The tiny spoiler was as much of a throw back, as it was a glimpse into the future I think.
Two thumbs up & kudos to Nascar for working it to this MUCH improved point.
The race was far from a “barnburner” but it was one of the best Michigan races since the repave. Still work to be done though. I think with a track like Michigan no matter what the areo-package is, Goodyear will have to bring harder tires than at most tracks, and clean air will be king until the track ages more.