Race Weekend Central

How Much Change is Good for NASCAR?

What hath NASCAR wrought?

For Sprint Cup teams in the midst of a hectic, pre-Chase summer schedule, a lot.

Never mind that revisions to the Cup rulebook should be published on an Etch-a-Sketch, but maybe race team work schedules should be printed that way, too.

The assortment of demands placed on Sprint Cup teams in 2015 can be described with one word: schizophrenic.
Consider the last month and what is yet to come….

Let’s begin with the road course race at Sonoma in late June. It was a road course, so special layouts called for special cars with special features. Kyle Busch punctuated his return to competition with a win.

And then the fun began, and not just for Kyle.

Next was the restrictor plate race at Daytona. Again, special circumstances called for special considerations, and the teams worked their respective magic. This plate race was unique, however, because of what lay just one week ahead on the calendar.

The next race was at Kentucky Speedway and the debut of NASCAR’s innovative (and necessary?) low downforce package. Even though drivers, fans, and most in the media cheered the changes, the fix was far from in.

This deal was a limited time offer.

So Cup teams planned for last weekend’s race at New Hampshire by going back to the “old” – as in since the second week of the 2015 season – aerodynamic format. This was as difficult as pulling out an existing car, but it required a conscious effort to compartmentalize details and shelve innovation. For one week, NASCAR would take a walk on the mild side.

Until the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Now teams will be adapting a high drag aero package to their cars, but only for this one event. The high drag configuration, which actually might be fun to see used the next week at Pocono, will give way, once again, to our standard 2015 design. Pocono, come early August, will be a return to the same ol’ same ol’….

Then the Cup Series moves back to a road course. Watkins Glen International will offer enough natural challenges to keep race teams both busy and bothered.

But then, there’s Michigan.

Michigan International Speedway is not only fast, wide, and starting to mature into an even more hyper-competitive surface, but it will also play host to yet another attempt at the high drag package.

So how many crew chiefs have their bathroom mirrors plastered with Post-it-Notes? How much shop personnel is working overtime to keep up with all the changes? How many times can you keep a hauler’s inventory straight before an essential piece or part gets left at home?

And it only gets more hectic.

After MIS, the Cup Series heads to Bristol for the night race. Back to the “original” 2015 package and lots of body work come Sunday. Bristol might actually be the sole familiar event of the summer months; conventional cars on the infamous track should give NASCAR Nation a return to the status quo.

But maybe that is NOT what NASCAR Nation wants, nor deserves?

What IS deserved after Bristol is a much-needed week off. While it should be a chance for teams to catch their collective breath and rest, opportunity for such leisure will be limited.

That’s because, for the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend, Sprint Cup teams will change their cars yet again and adopt the low downforce package for Darlington. It should make for exciting racing at the legendary track, but teams will have their sights set on an even bigger achievement: Victory Lane at Richmond International Raceway.

Winning at Richmond the following week, after yet another return to the basic 2015 configuration, will be the last chance for teams to make the Chase. All eyes will be on Virginia’s capital city as the September race sets NASCAR’s “Sweet Sixteen” roster.

And then we head to Joliet and the beginning of the end. Will any of these new-and-improved packages see track time during the Chase? The pre-change changes will, but I believe the new low downforce configuration should as well. You can’t run so many races on intermediate layouts without some attempt to improve the competition.

But it may not happen. There’s been no official word from NASCAR thus far, to the point where the sanctioning body has yet to even alert Goodyear about supplying low downforce-appropriate tires. If any of these innovations are going to stick, NASCAR has to make a formal commitment as soon as possible.

Sprint Cup teams have been committing their time, energy, and resources to all these changes. Now it’s high time for NASCAR to do the same.

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