With NASCAR rules in flux and Chase on the horizon, teams wrestle with how to adapt


LOUDON, N.H. – Low downforce.

High drag.

Middle-of-the-road speculation.

Where will NASCAR land with its rules with the Chase for the Sprint Cup looming and myriad options to be assessed and evaluated over the final eight races of the regular season?

That was the pressing question hanging over the New Hampshire Motor Speedway garage Friday as teams prepared for Sunday’s 5-Hour Energy 301, which is among the last races remaining before the Chase that are run being under the original 2015 rules package.

In two of the next four races — at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway — a high-drag aero package will be employed that essentially is the opposite approach than a lower-downforce package that made its debut (to mostly rave reviews from drivers and fans) at Kentucky Speedway.

A test was held Monday through Wednesday at Chicagoland Speedway, where reams of hard data were compiled, but few facts emerged about what might be the future direction for NASCAR’s premier series.

Though it certainly seems track-specific rules changes are the rage, the uncertainty about implementing them is challenging for teams trying to assemble a game plan for tackling the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which will begin Sept. 20 at Chicagoland.

NASCAR hasn’t said the rules will be altered for the 10-race title playoff – which will feature five 1.5-mile ovals that are in the cross-hairs for potential rules changes aimed at enhance passing (which happened at a 132% greater clip at Kentucky), particularly in swapping the lead.

But the sanctioning body also hasn’t ruled out tweaking tracks during the Chase, either.

Given that the Kentucky rules modifications were announced with only three weeks of lead time, it’s conceivable that much could change between now and when 16 teams begin dueling for the title in two months – making it virtually impossible to build an informed agenda that maximizes a rare test such as Chicagoland (13 of those were sessions slated for 2015).

“It’s hard to do that right now because we don’t know,” Team Penske’s Joey Logano said. “I don’t think anybody knows what we’re going to have.

“It could be the package we’ve been running all year.  If things work out, it could be the new low downforce package.  If things are great in Indy, who knows what happens?  You’d think that would just stay at Indy and Michigan, but who knows?  There are just so many unknowns right now that you’ve just got to focus on the things that you do know. There are parts on your car that are just going to make your car faster, no matter what aero package you’ve got.”

source: Getty ImagesIt still has made for some extreme cases of befuddlement and frustration for teams, namely Greg Biffle’s at Roush Fenway Racing.

His  No. 16 Ford tested at Kentucky Speedway for three days in mid-April … and yet when the circuit  returned to the 1.5-mile oval last week, the lower-downforce package made its debut.

At Darlington Raceway last month, Biffle tested for two days with the current rules package. But that approach since has been junked for the Southern 500, and the Sept. 6 race will feature the lower-downforce rules used at Kentucky.

Biffle was one of 13 drivers who tested Wednesday at Chicagoland. While some tried all three  packages, or focused on a combination of two, Biffle worked solely on the current rules.

“It’s hard for us considering the position we’re in as a team to manage that moving target, but, at the same time, we understand that this is changing around,” Biffle said. “Actually, I really like the package that we ran at Kentucky and what we’re going to run at Darlington, and maybe if we tweak on that, and that kind of continues to put on good racing, maybe that’s the package.

“So we (worked) on 2015 stuff,  and hopefully, it wasn’t the sixth day we’ve been (testing) on the race track that we’re going race something different, but we don’t know.”

If the goal is the greater good of improving the quality of racing by reducing the effect of aerodynamics, however, Biffle said his team gladly would take its lumps in the wake of what might have been the best race of the season.

“I’m game for all the changes they’re doing,” he said. “From the driver’s point of view, Kentucky was probably one of the best races that I’ve been in in a long time because we were able to do things we couldn’t do with the car before.

“You weren’t stuck behind that guy. You were stuck behind that guy because you always have been, but not like it was when the downforce was on it, it seemed like.  It seemed like it was a step in the right direction.  I thought it was much better.”


COTA Truck race results: Zane Smith wins

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

Reigning series champion Zane Smith won Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

The victory is Smith’s second of this year.

MORE: COTA Truck race results

Kyle Busch finished second and was followed by Ty Majeski, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.

The key moment came when Parker Kligerman‘s truck came to a stop on the frontstretch at Lap 28. Smith, running second, made it to pit road before it was closed. Busch, who was leading, had already passed pit road entrance.

Smith gained the lead with the move, while Busch had to pit under the caution and restarted 16th. Smith was able to build a lead and beat Busch by 5.4 seconds.

Stage 1 winner: Christian Eckes

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Ty Majeski’s third-place finish is his best of the season. … Tyler Ankrum’s fourth-place finish is his best of the year. … Corey Heim has finished sixth two races in a row. … Rookie Nick Sanchez finished seventh, giving him back-to-back top 10s.

Who had a bad race: Parker Kligerman was running third when electrical issues forced him to stop on track just after the end of the second stage. … After winning the first stage, Christian Eckes had mechanical issues and had to pit for repairs, costing him several laps.

Notable: Front Row Motorsports has won the Truck COTA race all three years. Todd Gilliland won the race in 2021 and Zane Smith has won it the past two years.

Next: The series races April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
COTA winner Zane Smith’s truck catches fire after he did his burnout on the frontstretch. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

William Byron wins Cup pole at COTA


William Byron will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron won the pole with a lap of 93.882 mph around the 3.41-mile road course Saturday. He becomes the first Cup driver to win a pole at four different road courses: Charlotte Roval (2019), Road America (2021), Indianapolis road course (2021) and COTA (2023).

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Byron will be joined on the front row by Tyler Reddick, who had posted the fastest lap in Friday’s practice and fastest lap in the opening round of qualifying Saturday. Reddick qualified at 93.783 mph.

Austin Cindric (93.459 mph) qualified third. Former IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, substituting for an injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, qualified fourth with a lap of 93.174 mph. AJ Allmendinger (93.067) will start fifth.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

Ross Chastain, who won this event a year ago, qualified 12th. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen qualified 22nd, former world champion Jenson Button qualified 24th, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 31st and IndyCar driver Conor Daly qualified 35th.

Sunday Cup race at Circuit of the Americas: Start time, TV info, weather


Is this Toyota’s weekend?

Chevrolet won the first four races of the season. Ford won last weekend with Joey Logano at Atlanta. Is it Toyota’s turn to win its first Cup race of the season? Or does Chevrolet return to dominance?

Chevrolet drivers have won 11 of the past 12 Cup races on road courses. The exception was Christopher Bell‘s win for Toyota at the Charlotte Roval in last year’s playoffs. Chevrolets have won the two previous Cup races at COTA: Chase Elliott in 2021 and Ross Chastain in 2022.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard in “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting at 2:45 p.m. … Driver introductions at 3:05 p.m. … Invocation will be given by Sage Steele, ESPN broadcaster, at 3:30 p.m. … Jaime Camil, actor from “Schmigadoon” on Apple TV+, will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 68 laps (231.88 miles) on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 15. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Pre-race coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and moves to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and will also stream at goprn.com; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground – Mostly cloudy with a high of 80 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

STARTING LINEUP: COTA Cup starting lineup

LAST YEAR: Ross Chastain scored his first career Cup win in a physical battle with AJ Allmendinger on the final lap. Alex Bowman finished second. Christopher Bell placed third.


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