Since 2015, NASCAR has looked at making the racing product better in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. NASCAR tested a lower downforce package at Kentucky and Darlington due to pleas from drivers, while NASCAR chose to use a higher drag package at Michigan and Indianapolis to try things their way.
After much consideration, NASCAR chose to go the way the drivers wanted, a lower downforce package. From 2015 to 2016, NASCAR reduced downforce from 2,700 pounds to 2,000 pounds.
In 2016, NASCAR tested an even lower downforce package at Kentucky and Michigan. After a few minor tweaks, downforce was reduced by 500 pounds.
Has this reduction of downforce made the racing in 2017 better? Let’s take a look at the first seven races of the season! The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has went to every style of racetrack from a superspeedway to a short track and from an old abrasive surface and a newly repaved surface.
The numbers are rather shocking.
The number of green flag passes at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2016 was 3,717. In 2017, that number was 2,811. That is a difference of 27.7574%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was 2210. In 2017, the number was 1,927. A difference of 3.6814%
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Phoenix Raceway was 686. In 2017, the number was 1,026. The number of green flag passes was up by 39.7196%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Auto Club Speedway was 3,346. In 2017, that number was 2,707. A difference of 21.1135%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Martinsville Speedway was 1,207. In 2017, that number was 1,725. The number of passes was up 35.3342%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Texas Motor Speedway, under the old pavement and configuration, was 2,733. In 2017, under the new pavement and configuration, the number of passes was 1,894. The difference is 36.2654%.
Early on in the season the eyeball test showed some issues within this package. Speedway Digest asked Denny Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger what they would change based on the eyeball test and numbers.
“I would just like them to stop changing stuff. It’s tough on us. I thought way at the end of last year I think we had six top 10’s in eight races and we had finally kind of gotten a feel of the aero package of what we needed and had some good race cars when it came to set-up and knowing how we wanted to set them up and they keep changing. I think that is what’s tough here,” said Allmendinger. “Right away we all jump to conclusions that ‘oh it’s not good enough we’ve got to change again.’ You’ve just got to give teams time. The bigger teams, every time you change an aero package the bigger teams are going to succeed in that because they have the wind tunnel time. You would think it would bring the field closer everybody starting over again, well it just separates the field even more because the bigger teams have the more resources to go wind tunnel test and figure out the aero package a lot quicker than other teams do. It’s five races, we all just need to calm down a little bit and give it a whole year and see if it’s working or not and then make a decision after that, but we don’t need to jump to that conclusion after five races.”
Hamlin, who is a member of the Driver’s Council, had this to say about the aero package in 2017 and what changes he would advocate for.
"Well, I think we've had a relatively small sample size. I think that we've had probably fewer cautions than what we've had in the past, and that doesn't help the passes, the green flag passes, because you have jumbling up on pit road, faster cars have a bad pit stop, they've got to come back through the field, so that part of it hampers passing a little bit. It would be interesting to revisit that probably mid to later in the season,” said Hamlin. “But I think overall, the racing itself has been very, very good. We've seen battles for the lead every single week. So overall, we've been pretty happy with it. Corner speeds are down, which is good. That's something that we wanted. There's been more tire falloff this year, which has been good. That's what we wanted. So I think we're heading in a good direction. But early in seasons, there's some teams that are on top right now that are very hot and their cars are fast, and it's going to take a while for the competition to catch up. When they catch up, fields get tighter, more passing happens."
At this point in 2016, there were talks about a lower downforce aero package being used at the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. However, in 2017, the rumor mill has been silent about potential changes in the aero package.
Five practice sessions, two qualifying sessions, and one 300-mile event was not enough for officials at Texas Motor Speedway when it comes to a second racing groove on the newly repaved and reconfigured track.
Officials at Texas will run the Texas Tire Monster and the Kentucky Tire Dragon, which came overnight from Sparta, Kentucky to Fort Worth Texas, to help facilitate the movement of a second groove.
The Texas Tire Monster lays down rubber using heigh weight with highly cambered tires to put rubber on the track, but relies on the sun and heat for it to work. However, the Kentucky Tire Dragon creates heat through friction to grind the rubber into the track.
From now til race time, more rubber. pic.twitter.com/uW2hV0gg5F— Texas Motor Speedway (@TXMotorSpeedway) April 8, 2017
Officials will run both machines from 10 p.m. CST to 1:00 a.m. CST and then resume at 6:00 a.m. CST until the start of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
Officials will also use the Team Texas Driving School, which is slated to run laps around the track from 6:30 p.m. CST to 10:00 p.m. CST, to help facilitate rubber lay down in the higher grooves.
The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 from Texas Motor Speedway will be live on FOX and Performance Racing Network at 1:30 p.m. EST. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 will consist of 334 laps broken down into two stages of 85 laps and the final stage consisting of 164 laps.
Darrell Wallace Jr. scored his sixth six place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in the My Bariatric Solutions 300. He now holds second for the longest streak with the same top-10 finish. Jack Ingram currently holds that record at six straight races with a second place finish set back in 1983.
That streak almost came to an end at Lap 66. Wallace Jr. and Tyler Reddick made contact going into turn three sending Wallace Jr. into a spin. The spin also collected Justin Allgaier, Brennan Poole, and Daniel Suarez.
Wallace Jr. suffered damage to the splitter and the car’s body, the least amount of damage from anybody involved in the accident.
“We were on the free side pretty much every race and I haven’t had enough to lean on to run with those fast guys up there for most of the year. We had some good calls and good strategy today,” said Wallace Jr. post race. “The 42 got into us there in entry. Just a racing deal. I was a little pissed off at first but you have to remember there are rookies out here and I am still learning myself.”
At the conclusion of the stage, Wallace Jr and his crew chief Seth Barbour elected not to pit in an effort to gain valuable track position at Texas.
Wallace started the third and final stage in the second position, but fell back to around 10th as drivers who had fresher tires went by.
Despite the early spin, Wallace Jr. enjoyed his time in the car.
“What a blast out here today. Texas is tough now. Giving up that bottom groove is like pulling teeth. I really fought hard there and did look with about nine laps to go where I was and got it mixed up between us and the 9 and we were sixth.”
Although the effort was made by Wallace Jr. on the track, he was quick to credit his pit crew for their performance.
“Shout out to my guys. My pit crew was on it all day and all year. They put us in the game there on the green-flag stop. I saw we came out a couple spots ahead of the guys we were behind and I knew it would be a good day,” said Wallace Jr.
Wallace Jr. currently sits fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series points standings 49 points behind points leader Elliott Sadler. Wallace Jr. currently holds zero playoff points.
Texas Motor Speedway looks different for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series this weekend during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 and the My Bariatric Solutions 300.
Over the offseason, Texas repaved and redesigned the first and second turns. The first two turns have decreased from 24 degrees of banking to 21 degrees, while also expanding the width to 80 feet.
There were no Goodyear tire tests ran at Texas due to the repaving project finishing a few weeks ago. However, the plans are for Goodyear to use the same tire compound used at Kentucky Speedway, last year.
Cup teams will have nearly two and a half hours of practice time on Friday an a hour and 45 minute session on Saturday. Xfinity teams will have two hours and 20 minutes of practice on Friday before their race on Saturday.
Chris Buescher was the only driver to make laps on the new surface at Texas. While making those laps, Buescher’s cinematography held numerous drivers see the changes at the track. However, the video was only meant for Buescher and his JTG Daugherty Racing team.
“I’m not sure who posted it or how it got there, but I wish I had thought of that. I was trying to help our team, not everybody. But, it kind of worked out that way. We were here right after the Vegas race before they had lines on the track and just taking a look. I think the speedway did a pretty good job of paving it. It was extremely smooth,” said Buescher on Friday before practice.
When the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, the caution quickly fell as Denny Hamlin spun into turns one and two. Kyle Busch tagged the outside wall in turns one and two, but was able to fix the primary car. Things did not go so well for Erik Jones and Chase Elliott. Jones was coming off the fourth turn before his car went towards the wall resulting in a backup car. Elliott was coming off of the second turn before he spun and crashed into the outside wall before working his way to the inside wall for more damage, also going to a backup car.
Drivers were on edge during the practice session and many called the track “sketchy” throughout.
As the session progressed, speeds continued to increase as more rubber was being laid onto the racing surfacee. Before his spin, Hamlin laid down a lap at 174.053 MPH. After two hours and 27 minutes of practice, Ryan Blaney was fastest at 194.182 mph, Michael McDowell was second fastest at 194.056 mph, Buescher was third fastestest at 193.361 mph, Jones was fourth fastest at 193.154 mph, and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top-five at 192.836 mph. Over 1,000 laps were run by drivers in the session.
In 2016, the first practice session of the weekend at Texas saw Martin Truex Jr. fastest at 192.892 mph. In qualifying last year, Brian Vickers laid down the fastest speed in the first round at 196.014 mph.
The notes from previous years are no longer valid at Texas as the playing field becomes equal with the repave.
Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) announced today that the repave that was scheduled to take place after this year’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 would be put on hold and reevaluated after the race in 2018.
This move was made after pressure from drivers came when the series was at AMS just a few weeks ago.
“We appreciate all of the input we have received from key individuals in the NASCAR industry, as well as our customers,” said Ed Clark, Atlanta Motor Speedway president. “The overwhelming majority have urged us to hold off on paving so that we can enjoy at least one more weekend of high-speed slipping and sliding in 2018 before the new surface is installed.
Before the reevaluation occurs, AMS will provide a meticulous maintenance program to preserve the surface from further deterioration.
This move is a mistake! AMS must be repaved!
What will happen when it rains? Everyone involved would have to sit for hours on ends waiting for the track to dry. Why? Weepers!
Remember back in 2015 when it rained a few hours before the start of the race? I sure do! The rain stopped nearly three to four hours before the initial time the green flag was supposed to wave. The track was dry, but weepers caused the start of the race to be delayed. The conditions may not have been ideal for track drying, but the race was delayed.
Let’s look at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS). The IndyCar and NASCAR race weekends were encompassed with rain. IndyCar had to complete the Firestone 600 in August due to the fact that the track could not dry because of weepers, nearly two months after the race was scheduled for completion. The NASCAR Fall race at TMS started late into the evening due to rain that arose the problem of weepers.
TMS scheduled a repave and reconfiguration to help solve the weeper problem.
The racing surfaces of AMS and TMS are at the same length of time as far as the age of the pavement.
It is tiring to many to hear driver’s complain that it would take a few years for the track to get back to being multiple-grooved. With the technology we have today, track operators have the opportunity to help “age” the asphalt making it multiple-grooved. TMS used that technology to help age their new asphalt. Let’s see how that works before we decide to scratch a repave in the near future because of complaints from the drivers.
Who is to blame IF it rains in 2018 and fans have to wait for hours because the track is dry, but weepers are the main culprit that cars aren’t racing? It is on the drivers who pushed for the postponement of the repave at Atlanta.