When Matt Kenseth took the win on Sunday, it ended another 400-mile test session that NASCAR implemented a different rules package than what was used to start the season. High spoilers, wicker bills, bigger roll pan, all of it was intended to increase drag, hoping to create more passing and more action.
At Indianapolis, it was met with ridicule, and severe criticism from drivers, crews and fans.
Following Sunday’s action at Michigan, even though it wasn’t outright said, the meaning was implied. Every question asked about the rules was met with comments of how well the teams prepared for the weekend, or how they ran. Not one was a direct answer, almost as though everyone was biting their tongue to not get in trouble.
Let’s face facts, the high-drag package in both races was less than stellar.
No one could pass, and when they tried it took a lot of momentum in order to do so, and had to be done entering a corner, otherwise the momentum was lost. The tall spoiler and wicker almost seemed like it was a parachute, taking away any advantage should the pass not be completed by the time the straightaway was hit.
It was a true failure, actually doing the exact opposite that it was designed to do.
In contrast, in three weeks when the sport makes the trip to Darlington for the first time on Labor Day weekend since 2003, NASCAR is doing it’s other test of a different rules package, one that although not complete in the eyes of the drivers, was well received when the product was presented.
The shorter spoilers, smaller roll pan, and now softer tire that will be used at the “Lady in Black” is major steps ahead of what was run on Sunday.
What everyone saw last month at Kentucky was exactly what fans expect from NASCAR, in that the drivers had more input into the racing, the control, and it produced the kind of race that even behind the wheel, was entertaining. From the lead to the tail end of the field, the drivers actually could pull up, pass, and then see their competition pull up and possibly pass them back, all the while keeping speed and not losing any momentum.
It was what fans hoped to see when the current rules were introduced at the beginning of the season.
Unfortunately, the problem that NASCAR ran into is that changing the aerodynamics was one thing, but taking away horsepower hindered their plans. Going from over 900 horsepower down to around 750, it creates a challenge, because the power that could be kept in reserve to make a pass when necessary. Now, there is so much corner speed, everyone is on even ground.
The drivers’ council that formed at Dover set all this in motion, and all it had in mind was presenting a better product for the fans.
NASCAR listened, and decided to try these experiments, seeing what would work with this car and what wouldn’t.
Ever since the debut of the Gen-6 car in 2013, it has been a work in progress, but all the progress has been positive. It’s a stark contrast from the “Car of Tomorrow” that was ridiculed from the moment it came out in 2007. The splitter with bracing, the boxed-style, and most notable wing on the decklid; everything when it debuted seemed wrong, and against everything that NASCAR had represented when it came to looks of the cars was gone.
This car, even though it has changed packages the last three years, has been met with nothing but happiness, because it actually looks like a car, and handles like the street counterpart.
NASCAR President Mike Helton, CEO Brian France, and everyone involved in this sport strives for excellence, and giving the best product to the fans.
Kentucky was a step in the right direction, Darlington could officially set that course.