We all could see the results, and we all saw the on-track competition. It was clear that something was going to change come next season in NASCAR.
The introduction of the Generation-6 stock car prior to the 2013 season was the mark of a new era in the sport, and a feeling of going back to what helped make the sport a phenomenon. “Win on Sunday. Sell on Monday,” the slogan that helped multiple brands make a big impact in the sport officially returned.
At the same time, since it’s inception, the vehicle has been a work in progress.
It has seen change after change, both aerodynamically and in power, that the comfort level that was felt one season suddenly was gone the following. The product presented before the fans was better, but in the back of everyone’s mind, there was a thought that it could be better presented.
The rules for this year, they simply did not do what was expected. Lower horsepower, slightly better downforce, it then seemed to only benefit one individual: that who was out front.
It got to the point where drivers went to the sanctioning body to say what they wanted in the car, the package, and the actual racing presentation. NASCAR, ultimately realizing the drivers had a point, since they were the ones that were in the drivers’ seat, decided to give change a try.
One idea: high-drag.
Longer splitter edge, taller spoiler, and a wicker. The package had ideas of the old restrictor-plate package from 2001, minus the wicker on the roof.
That end result: failure.
One could not pass unless they used the draft and hit a slingshot move around the car in front. Speeds were not as fast, and cornering became a challenge because of speeds being hit before making a left. Drivers did not think it was the right idea, and they didn’t say a word about it.
In reality, they didn’t need to. Dodging the question said enough to write a novel.
The other idea: low downforce.
Take away the aerodynamics and put more of the driver input into how the car runs. A shorter splitter edge, a softer tire, and a much shorter spoiler were the idea.
The end result: happiness.
Drivers could actually drive the car, and make it handle the way THEY intended. The first test run, at Kentucky, was just an appetizer. It wasn’t completely perfect, but it was just as close as one could get at that time. The smiles on each face of those that wheeled these machines could not be taken off with surgery. The praise, the joy, every bit of it became infectious.
Then came Darlington, the true test at a track where drivers have to be up on the wheel every lap.
That result: OVERWHELMING.
Not one individual, whether they were wrenching on a bolt in the garage, or crushing that empty beer can in the stands, could say one negative aspect about the product presented that Labor Day weekend. If there was any negative from it, then it was the fact that the package used would not be run again.
At least, not this season.
The new rules package for 2016, announced today, will be the main course, exactly what this car needs to perform at it’s absolute best. The short spoiler, the soft tire, the lack of downforce.
It’s not only right, it’s old-school.
The cars run in the 1980’s in the sport were a vast change from the decade earlier. Gone were the big cars with long wheelbases and strong aerodynamic looks. In were shorter cars, shorter spoilers, and a softer compound of rubber to run alongside it. The cars initially were animals, hard to handle, but teams got used to them and they continued to improve as years passed.
When the Generation-6 car became the new piece to run, this is the package that should have been run to start with.
But, as is true with many things, it takes time to find the sweet spot, to make a product exactly what it should be for both driver and for fan. It’s a comparison to a pitcher finding the right spot to throw that third strike. Execute it right, and the batter heads to the dugout empty handed. Execute it wrong, it’s a big loss that needs made up later in the inning.
In NASCAR’s case, the execution of the 2015 rules did not go right, and the product suffered. Now, they have found the right combination.
Darlington was just a tease of what one race could be like. Next year, 32 of 36 events could have that effect. Certainly gives everyone something to look forward to in the 2016 season.