Race Weekend Central

Listen to Mama

My advice to Sprint Cup teams after last week’s race in Las Vegas is the same advice my dear departed mother used to share with me back when I was a kid: “Don’t mess with it too much….”

This instruction applied to a myriad of situations. Find a broken bottle in the woods? Don’t mess with it too much. Find an injured animal out near the garden? Don’t mess with it too much. Thinking about radically changing the air pressure in your bike tires? Don’t mess with it too much.

A multitude of sins was covered by this single phrase.

It was like whenever I had a scabbed knee or elbow. Just as the injury began to heal nicely, there’d be the urge to start picking at it and reopen the wound. That’s when Mom would have the urge to remind me of her sage advice.

This same wisdom applies to our current state of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

The new low-downforce aerodynamic package? Don’t mess with it too much.

Granted, teams are still getting accustomed to the particular ins-and-outs of the new configuration, but that doesn’t mean they’ll simply sit on their hands and allow the package to sort itself out organically. Allowing nature to take its course in motorsports means allowing teams to theorize, criticize, experiment, observe, tweak, and improve on what the rulebook has given them.

And some drivers are seeing the proverbial light at the end of the NASCAR tunnel. Unfortunately, to some Cup veterans, it looks like the oncoming glare from a return to the lackluster racing of seasons past.

As Brad Keselowski, winner of Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, explained during post-race interviews:

“The challenge for NASCAR is we’ve got all these race teams spending millions of dollars to develop the aerodynamics on the cars because there’s such a competitive advantage to finding more downforce. It will only take us about half a year to a year’s time to where we remove all the benefits that this package has given….”

As my late mother used to say: “Don’t mess with it too much.”

Blame it on the engineers whose teams pay them to unravel the mysteries of moving air, shifting weight, and making speed. I work around a lot of engineering types and I can vouch for their never-ending curiosity. Give them a challenge, and they’ll move both land and sea in an effort to achieve their goal.

How do you think we landed a man on the Moon?

How do you think NASCAR wound up in the position it found itself in over the past decade or so?

Blame it on the engineers doing too good of a job….

It’s been over two decades since NASCAR teams began luring university engineers away from their institutions in order to play with cars. The first I heard of it was when Penske Racing (then called Penske South) hired a Ph.D. in aerodynamics engineering to conduct research using the team’s in-house wind tunnel. When people back then heard that I was in graduate school and working closely with NASCAR, they naturally assumed I was following a similar trajectory.

Since I struggled to even balance my checkbook (and still do), the answer was a quick and most definite “no.”

But what seemed so unusual way back then is today an expected and required aspect of every NASCAR race team. And because race teams employ these kinds of people, the new rules package (and any rules package, for that matter) is far from secure.

If there’s an aero package to follow, there’s also a way to modify said aero package to replace any benefit that’s been taken away by headquarters.

Remember what Brad Keselowski said after his win in Las Vegas….

So, again, I’ll suggest to Sprint Cup teams what my mother suggested to me. Even though there’s an urge to mess with the new aero package and find all that missing downforce, the sport will be better off if teams just leave it alone. Let the air have its way with the cars and keep the emphasis on the drivers, their skills, and their abilities to manage variables like fuel load, tire wear, and changing track conditions.

Keep tweaking the cars, and the sport just might return to those frustrating old days of the dreaded aero push. Competition in the Sprint Cup Series is far from perfect, but teams shouldn’t mess with it too much.

My mother was always right….

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