Race Weekend Central

Dropping the Hammer: NASCAR’s Aero-Push From the Past

“There’s something very familiar about all this” – Old Biff Tannen, Back to the Future Part II

First off, how about that Kansas Speedway race?

We now live in a world where someone making the statement, “Kansas Speedway is the best track in NASCAR,” will leave you like this:

Yagpxpd

Can’t argue with that, and it’s technically not wrong.

For the record, Darlington Raceway, where NASCAR will hold its 10th Throwback Weekend in a few days, is still my favorite on the circuit.

See also
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But in the last three years and five races held there, the 1.5-mile track in Kansas City, Kan., has arguably put on the best show in the sport.

Not counting the tire induced bonanza at Bristol Motor Speedway and the three-wide finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sunday’s (May 5) Kansas race was one of the best flag-to-flag races we’ve seen recently, right up there with the last two Coca-Cola 600s.

It had race-winner Kyle Larson making this statement right after coming out on top of the closest finish in NASCAR history.

“That race from start to finish was amazing,” Larson said. “That first stage was incredible. I wish we had more mile-and-a-halfs.

“We all bitch about the package and all that, but [at] these mile-and-a-halfs, these cars just race so amazing.”

The fact anyone in NASCAR is saying this sincerely is, well, remarkable.

When the racing product on nearly every other style of track is cratering, thanks to a Next Gen car that maybe should have been tested more on short tracks during its development and which was specifically designed to handle better on road courses — oops? — it’s the mile-and-half-tracks that are NASCAR’s savior.

Coming to theaters this summer: ‘Revenge of the Cookie Cutters.’

Seriously, we’re in a bizarre moment.

This was highlighted Sunday night. Someone on Twitter posted a screenshot of a headline on an article I wrote at NBC Sports essentially a decade ago in May 2015.

Written three months into my six-year tenure at NBC Sports, I don’t remember this story about reaction to that season’s All-Star Race at all.

But reading through it in 2024 is amusing, if not surreal.

1.5-mile tracks — or at least Charlotte Motor Speedway — were in bad shape then, and the 550-HP package wouldn’t even be in use for another four years.

“Aero-push,” like it was for much of April this year, was the buzzword.

Change some driver names out, and you could be reading an article written at some point in the last month, just not about intermediates.

“Does anyone watch Formula 1?” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s been there for years. It’s in IndyCars, it’s in racing. If you run behind one of your colleagues in this room, you’re going to have an aero-push.”

As was noted by others over the last few weeks, Harvick went on to say aero-push had always been around, even during the sport’s heyday. They just didn’t know what to call it.

“We almost know too much about everything that’s going on now,” Harvick said. “I could make my car run fast behind other cars last week, but it’s just a totally different way of driving a car when you’re behind someone than it is when you’re by yourself.”

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Has Decent Coverage of Rain-Delayed Kansas

Jimmie Johnson, who won more races on 1.5-mile tracks in his career than anyone else, expressed disappointment that potential changes to create more off-throttle time in 2016 had been “tabled for now.”

“The more wide-open percentage throttle you are running, it is just harder to pass,” Johnson said. “It makes the track narrower, and it makes the air for the leader more of a premium.”

It would get worse.

A year later, Martin Truex Jr. won the Coca-Cola 600 after leading 392 of 400 laps. The year after that, he’d lead 233 of 400 laps.

Then in 2017, Kyle Busch won after leading 377 of 400 laps.

Over the next few years, intermediate tracks began dropping like flies from the schedule as short tracks, road courses and a temporary dirt track took their place.

And here we are now.

Even Texas Motor Speedway, which has been a piñata for criticism for a long time now — including from me — put on a better show this year than Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway.

Kansas Speedway, a track that really had no real racing identity before 2021, is the one that now claims the closest finish in NASCAR history.

Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together … MASS HYSTERIA!

This intermediate resurgence is fine and grand.

Now let’s fix the other stuff, NASCAR. Please?

You know, as long as it’s not via horsepower or any rules package changes.

No, let Goodyear be the one to solve your problems.

This is Daniel McFadin’s 11th season covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his fourth year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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Ed Rooney

NASCAR trying to design a car that excels at EVERY track on the circuit is like trying to stack marbles on a fencepost. You’ll get a few to stay put but…

DoninAjax

Remember when teams had a short track car, a super-speedway car and a concrete car? You’d think the NA$CAR Brian Trust would check their history and learn…. NAH!!!!! They know better.

Tim White

The author is on point with everything I read.

I especially agree that the product on the track is great. Had been since this new car was introduced. They really did themselves proud in creating a competitive box to keep the teams in.

Also 100% agree with the solution of Goodyear bringing tires to short tracks that will allow more passing under green. It’s not a horsepower or aero issue there it’s grip and overall wear. It’s been either too good or horrible like at Bristol.

Now they have a good product and seem to be hesitant in dealing with revenue sharing percentages and Charter ownership.

Got to get that done before the chase starts or it will be a big distraction on what has potential to be a stellar season for NASCAR and it’s competiors and fans

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