JOLIET, Il. – While he’s in favor of NASCAR implementing more track-specific aero packages in 2016, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wouldn’t like to see changes made to tracks in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“NASCAR said they don’t want to do that,” Earnhardt said during an open test Wednesday at Chicagoland Speedway. “The drivers, there’s some guys that don’t want it and there’s some guys that do want it. Carl Edwards is going to tell you to run that low downforce package everywhere. I think Kyle (Busch) is a big fan of it, as well.
“I like it, too, but I’m not sure if you want to throw that kind of curve ball in the Chase. I think we need to learn more, we need to understand where we’re going with the tires, how to match the tires up a little better, and we just don’t want asterisks next to this program and this season.
“And we also have to go through Darlington, Michigan and Indy (all races that will have special aero packages like at Kentucky last weekend) and see what happens there and learn from all those things. I’m sure the picture will be a little bit clearer about what we should do and could do after those races.
“But again, today, I wouldn’t make any changes in the Chase, but you never know, get them three races in and we all may have opinions about doing different things in the Chase as far as aero goes.”
Now, 2016 is a whole different story. When asked if he would advocate having different aero packages specifically designed for individual tracks, Earnhardt concurred.
“Absolutely, I think it makes the racing more interesting,” he said. “It makes it more interesting for the fans to go through that cycle of learning about these packages and what they do and what type of racing they create.
“I think it would really be a feather in the caps of the (TV) networks, to give them so much information and ammo to broadcast and put on a good show. Plus, I think it’s a good way to adjust and tweak the racing and make better racing at that track.
“Some drivers like more downforce, other drivers like less downforce. Different packages are going to lend themselves to different drivers, and that’s the same way with race tracks. The same thing that makes for a great race at Kentucky might not make for such a great race at Indy or Michigan.”
While he wouldn’t like to see changes to this year’s Chase races, Earnhardt likes what he’s gone through the last three days at Chicagoland. Monday and Tuesday were closed tire tests for Goodyear, which included numerous tire and aero packages that included high drag, low downforce and the current package.
Teams that took part in Wednesday’s test had the option to try whatever package they wanted. But Monday and Tuesday were rather structured, with some surprising results.
“We ran the low downforce package some yesterday, we ran the high downforce package,” Earnhardt said. “We went through three or four sets of tires for each package, just for Goodyear to get an idea about wear and how those tires work with each package.”
Earnhardt initially believed that, particularly on Tuesday, the tire test may be setting up for a now aero package for the first race of this year’s Chase, which begins once again at Chicagoland. But Wednesday, he wasn’t so sure a new tire could be constructed in time to match the results of the aero tests.
“I don’t think they’ll run here,” he said. “We may run here soon down the road. Coming here for a three-day test, we went through tires for Goodyear. They mandated that all the cars put that little spoiler on the second day. That told me they were thinking about running that low downforce here.
“And then we saw the tires tearing up, we tore up some right front tires. Martin (Truex Jr.) tore up one, I tore up one, the 9 (Sam Hornish Jr.) tore up one, and when Goodyear sees that, the red flag comes out and you have to slow down and there’s just not enough time to really prepare for the right tire and get it on the car and get it ready for the Chase. I think we’ll run the 2015 current package that we’ve run all year here and who knows if we’ll have it next year.”
When asked about NASCAR chairman Brian France’s comments earlier in the week that he’d like to see more drafting and pack racing like at Kentucky, Earnhardt was a bit taken aback.
“Yeah, I was surprised by some of his comments about drafting, in particular,” he said. “I mean, you’re not going to see drafting at Kentucky, I don’t care what you do. I don’t know how in the heck we’re going to try and accomplish that, if that’s what they’re looking for.
“I thought the racing was good, the fans like it and I think we had more passing. … You’re not going to draft there. That place is wore out, it’s rough as hell down the straightaways, you ain’t going to draft. You’re going to pass in the corners, you’re going to chase guys around in the corners and get out of shape and beat around each other in the corner and race hard like we did the other night.”
NASCAR has at least three upcoming races with track-specific aero packages for each: next week at Indianapolis, next month at Michigan and the Labor Day weekend at Darlington. Earnhardt said fans will like – and may even be surprised – at how the changes will affect those races.
“Michigan should be real interesting,” he said. “They’re going to take some gear out of the car plus put the big spoiler on to slow it way down. They’re expecting to see like a 6 mph draft closing distance between the lead car and following car, which should be pretty wild.
“This is really a big deal, to change the whole thing for everybody at this track and then try something so extreme at another track. What they’re trying at Michigan and Indy is really extreme and really should alter the racing and what it looks like there. What it’ll look like, I don’t know, but it’s not going to be the same. Fans are going to tune in to see that, whatever it is, what happens, that’s great.”
All in all, Earnhardt liked the three days of testing at Chicagoland and what the future holds.
“This has been a three-day test and normally I hate tests, but this has been fun, to try and learn and understand,” he said. “I’m excited just to see what happens, whether this stuff works or fails or whatever. But it’s fun to go through, kind of like rearrange the furniture in the living room, so to speak, to do something different. It’s been kind of the same old, same old for so long, so this is kind of neat and exciting and unprecedented, really.”