Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is NASCAR’s New Downforce Package Ready For 2017?

Last Sunday’s race at Michigan was the third and final in-race test of what will presumably be the 2017 Sprint Cup rules package. Is it enough to improve the racing to a satisfactory level for fans?

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I think it will make for much better racing at the intermediates, but I’d like to see a couple of test sessions at Charlotte this offseason before it’s set in stone; I think a few more tweaks (like losing the splitter and going with a valence that’s about 6 inches shorter, which would make a big difference) could make it even better.  Still it’s a start.  The second part of this is loaded.  I know that social media blows things up especially when they’re negative, but I do sometimes wonder exactly what it would take to satisfy fans short of resurrecting Dale Earnhardt and turning the clock back to 1980 while handing out free pairs of rose-colored glasses.  Could the racing be better?  Yep, it sure can…but I feel like some people will never think it’s any good.

Clayton Caldwell, Staff Writer: I think Michigan was good and the rule package is a step in the right direction. We certainly needed lower downforce at the cookie cutters. It hasn’t worked as well on some other tracks but it’s been good on the cookie cutters.

John Douglas, Staff Writer: Michigan’s biggest issue isn’t aero right now. It’s the lack of a widening groove which tire dragging didn’t seem to help. Michigan is currently like the original Auto Club Speedway (before the pavement wore out) once that happens you will see the racing improve. That being said, I say take the whole rear spoiler off the Gen 6 car. The current body alone makes more downforce than any car ever has.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: While the new rules package seemed to perform well at Michigan this season, I’m thinking the jury is still out regarding other tracks. The overall issue across the schedule might be the need to widen and/or add racing grooves. Maybe the bigger change needs to come from Goodyear as tire compounds are managed in an effort to supplement the new aero package. I agree with John:  remove the rear spoiler and let physics run its course.

Kyle Larson became the first Drive for Diversity driver to win a Sprint Cup race with his win at MIS on Sunday.  Is that enough to label the program a success?

Caldwell: I’m a believer that Kyle Larson would have been here, D4D or not. He is talented enough to get to the Cup series. Whether you consider that a win for the D4D program, is up to you. All I saw on Sunday was a talented racecar driver win a race.

Douglas: Though Kyle Larson was part of the Drive For Diversity program, and though Kyle won with that program on his resume, it’s the sport as a whole embracing the idea that anyone can be part of racing that has helped, and made the program worthwhile. Kyle’s win is just another notch in the belt for this program with Darrell Wallace, Jr.’s historic win at Martinsville in the trucks, and every single person of a minority background that suits up to work on a NASCAR team, regardless of how much media they might get.

Howell: The Drive for Diversity program is a noble idea, but when you match the number of drivers who’ve been part of the initiative against the amount of success (however we might define such a term) those drivers have had, it appears that maybe the real issue is more about pure talent than it is about opportunity. Talented drivers will get rides with truly competitive race teams, regardless of the driver’s gender or ethnicity.

Henderson: I agree with Mark—the cream rises to the top.  I am glad that there the sport has become more diverse. At the end of the day, I want to see the best drivers on the track, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, etc.  I do think that the field being more diverse (and that is in part thanks to D4D, especially in regional series) will bring a more diverse talent base as young hopefuls see that there are opportunities for all.  That’s a great thing.  I know she isn’t a D4D grad, but if more girls want to race because they see Danica doing it, then Danica (and others who kids feel they can emulate) is valuable to the sport, and down the road, we won’t need a diversity program.

After the race at MIS, Brad Keselowski’s Ford failed postrace inspection Sunday and faces a 15-point penalty, while Kyle Larson’s victory celebration tore up some sheet metal but won’t likely be penalized.  Is it time for NASCAR to take a firmer stance on postrace issues…and should they take away finishes when the car doesn’t pass?

Douglas: In my opinion, NASCAR should NEVER use the excuse that they want fans knowing the results when they leave the track. If anyone thinks with the internet/social media, that fans can’t find out that “Driver-X” has failed post race and will be DQ’ed or penalized positions easily and understand why, they are sorely mistaken. I would rather see NASCAR hold people accountable to a serious standard, than a slap on the wrist, wink of the eye and exchange of a few measly dollars. Let’s be honest 15 points, or a $15,000 fine isn’t much when wins are what matters and the drivers make millions.

(Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)
When NASCAR victory burnouts like these tear up a winning race car – killing the chances it’ll pass postrace inspection — should the driver be penalized for “sidestepping” the rules? (Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)

Howell: NASCAR needs to keep its post-race policies balanced if they want them to be taken seriously. If you’re looking for legal tolerances after a race, make sure that violators take a hit where it counts most:  in the win column. Using point deductions as incentive really, in the scheme of things, doesn’t mean much. It’s always struck me as odd that we go after teams for not being legal after a race, but then we punish them with a slap on the wrist. Turn that asterisk in the record book into a lost victory, and teams will pay attention. As for tearing up cars during victory burnouts and other celebrations:  if NASCAR is concerned about such behavior, impound the winning car, run your aero/chassis tests, and punish the guilty. Don’t write penalty checks your rules enforcement can’t cash.

Henderson: I agree with John completely.  That’s the worst BS excuse for not doing the right thing ever.  If a car fails postrace inspection, that car should be disqualified, period, and that includes if it fails due to celebration damage. A legal car should get the position, points, and money. Especially in the Chase era, a points deduction is a slap on the wrist, and worse, it’s uneven…it does not affect Chase teams at all once the playoffs start, yet a non-Chase team can lose points positions and never regain them since they don’t get a reset.  Take points for pre-qualifying, post-qualifying, and prerace stuff, but take them all after Richmond.  Postrace failures just need their finish stripped unless they can prove the failure was because something broke in the car.  No points, no money.  Bring a legal car next time.

Caldwell: Absolutely. It makes no sense to do laser inspection and bust on the teams to the point where we have to hand out stupid warnings if you fail pre-qualifying inspection but yet allow teams to tear up their cars doing burnouts. If 1/16th of an inch matters prior to qualifying, it certainly matters during the race.

For the second year in a row, Darlington Raceway is promoting a throwback theme in conjunction with the Southern 500, and fans can vote on the various paint schemes for a “Best in Show” award.  Which scheme should win top honors?

Howell: I’m probably showing my age here, but I’m thrilled about Ryan Blaney’s No. 21/David Pearson paint scheme. That was the car I followed when I was a kid; my bedroom was plastered with photos of Pearson’s white, red, and gold Mercury (and it’d still be, if my wife allowed it). When I saw Blaney’s car unveiled, my heart skipped 21 beats! I’m also psyched about Kyle Larson’s XFINITY car and its Marty Robbins-inspired paint job. Again, it’s a connection to my younger days. One other throwback I can’t wait to see in action is Landon Cassill’s tribute to the late, great J.D. McDuffie. Labor Day weekend is going to be fun!

Henderson: I don’t think I could ever narrow it down to one. I love the No. 21 Wood Brothers car.  That car has just always looked classy.  The No. 13 is fantastic—the real thing is in the Hall of Fame and it’s beautiful.  I can’t wait to see it on the track. (For you Smokey Yunick fans, I asked Germain Racing if the car is full-sized.  They assured me that it is.) Finally, how can you not love the Tide Ride in all it’s orange glory? It was a part of the sport for so long and it’ll be great to see its return.  I love them all, though. I can’t wait to watch them from the press box Sunday night.

Caldwell: There are so many good ones. I have two that stand out. I grew up a Bill Elliott fan and the MacTonight Car was always a favorite of mine. To see Jamie McMurray and his team bring that back is going to be cool. I also love the original Interstate scheme. Again, I grew up in the early 90’s and that scheme brings back so many memories.

Douglas: It’s nearly impossible for me to pick just one paint scheme for the “Best of show” award  the Southern 500, but the car that speaks to me the most, is the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota that will be piloted by Kyle Busch. Not only does it harken back to the first season of competition for Joe Gibbs, but with Ned Jarrett in the booth for a segment of the race’s t.v. broadcast, I will inevitably be transported back to that famous call by the elder Jarrett, cheering his son home in the 1993 Daytona 500.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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First, I have already raised the issue of Brad’s race car failing post-race inspection in the comments section of Phil Allaway’s September 1st column dealing with the subject. Even though I cheer Fords and therefore cheer for the Penske teams, I would have had no issue if the 2 team had of won the race, then was stripped of their finish and were placed 43rd. If the car fails, it fails. There needs to be a stronger message sent to the teams about this sort of action. However, there also needs to be a serious consideration for transparency of the entire inspection process. This closed door stuff, like taking the car back to the research centre in Concorde, North Carolina should not be allowed. There must be some sort of independent body available to oversee every single inspection process.

Here is an idea, a “lottery” of sorts. The track, when they send out their ticket renewals, ask fans attending a race to submit their names to the track. Then, names are drawn, say five for pre-qualifying, another five for post qualifying, and so on. These fans get to witness, ask questions, and scrutinize the whole process. For instance, when the template gauge is lowered, and the fan sees a gap, he/she can ask if that gap is acceptable. If a gauge is used to measure the gap, is it calibrated? The fan gets to see the gauge being used for the measurement and verifies the result. Same with restrictor plates. Draw ten fans names, and have them select the plates one-by-one. This will alleviate the accusation of certain drivers getting a larger plate. This, coupled with site/blog writers who have access the NASCAR Media.com site that Phil mentioned will would certainly give NASCAR a lot more transparency that the fans have been demanding. INDYCAR obviously has that idea already.

By the way, for the record, my job is to preform incoming inspections on material and components that are used in the research testing my company does. We run high pressure (2500-psi), high temperature (575-degrees F) loops for thermohydraulic experiments geared toward hydro-electric systems research. And I have a reputation of being one nasty bast**d for being hard on our suppliers with my inspections. But, if they want our business, it’s our way or the highway. That’s the way it is with us today!

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