Long: High drag means low enjoyment for frustrated drivers

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INDIANAPOLIS – As soon as the engines quieted after Sunday’s Brickyard 400, drivers roared about NASCAR’s high-drag package that debuted this weekend.

“It’s terrible,’’ said seventh-place finisher Matt Kenseth.

“It was really bad,’’ said ninth-place finisher Kyle Larson.

“I didn’t see any significant gains,’’ said 10th-place finisher Brad Keselowski.

Don’t just listen to drivers. Look at the stats. A package that was intended to induce more passing produced 16 lead changes – one more than last year. Sunday’s total was the second fewest for this race since 2011.

NASCAR’s statistics also showed there were a total of 2,740 green-flag passes – 587 fewer green-flag passes than last year’s race. Sunday’s race featured 16 fewer green-flag laps than last year’s, contributing to the decline but not offsetting the difference.

NASCAR offered no comment Sunday night, a spokesperson stating that series officials wanted to further examine the race.

Drivers likely said much of wanted needed to be said. What they didn’t was filled in by the stats.

Yes, passing always is difficult at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is not designed for the heavy stock cars with its long straightaways and relatively flat corners. That makes this race more often one of strategy than one where cars are likely to trade the lead lap after lap.

Still, drivers think there’s a way to add spice to the racing.

Ever since NASCAR took the suggestion from some drivers to reduce the downforce late in a test last August at Michigan International Speedway, a number of drivers have been pushing for more of that.

NASCAR tried a low-downforce package at Kentucky, and the results were appealing — green-flag passes spiked by 132 percent from the previous year’s race. Lead changes also were up, and drivers offered positive comments about playing a greater role in how their cars performed. That package will be used again in September for the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

This weekend, NASCAR had teams and drivers try the high-drag package that was intended to create a draft in hopes of improving passing.

The package was plagued with issues. The rear bumper extension sealed the bottom of the car, trapping hot air. The package also allowed drivers to be on the throttle more, creating more engine heat. That cooked drivers. NBCSN showed that a temperature gauge inside Casey Mears’ car registered more than 142 degrees at one point in Sunday’s race.

Another issue is that while the larger spoiler created a draft to help a trailing car close, drivers couldn’t pass. Previously, cars would be tight when they got behind a car. This weekend, cars got loose, throwing drivers off.

While winner Kyle Busch lauded the ability to draft, he said more work needs to be done if this package is to be run again at Indy.

“When you got back in traffic … you were horrible,’’ Busch said. “It was absolutely just so hard to handle in traffic. It’s not sometimes such a bad thing, but you don’t want to feel like you’re going off into the corner and you’re going to crash every time. You want to have some sort of security. I think there’s something to be learned from today. I’m not sure it’s the right combination exactly, but I think there are some benefits to it.’’

Greg Biffle, who finished 19th, was clear on what he’d like to see more of in the future.

“I would say the Kentucky package is way, way better, and it put on a way better race than what that did,’’ he said.

Kenseth described the package as “the worst thing I ever drove on a big track. I like the low-downforce stuff because we actually have to drive the car. I enjoy that.’’

NASCAR plans to run this package in three weeks at Michigan International Speedway. The hope is the package will do what it didn’t do as much of Sunday and also create more of the drafting and pack racing NASCAR Chairman Brian France desires.

After Sunday’s show, should this package be run again?

“This package was really more intended for a track like Michigan than what it was here at Indy,’’ Hamlin said.

It was evident Sunday, this is a package that shouldn’t be used again at this track.

Kyle Busch dominates to Truck win at Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kyle Busch extended his NASCAR Truck Series victory record to 57 in his hometown Friday night, leading 108 of 134 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion swept both stages and finished 5.958 seconds ahead of Johnny Sauter. Busch has won seven straight races in the series, including all five he entered last season.

Austin Hill was third, followed by defending series champion Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes. Grrant Enfinger, who opened the season with an overtime victory at Daytona, did not finish after an accident with 43 laps to go.

Christian Eckes was right behind Busch in the opening two stages, but he finished 23rd after an early final-stage wreck.

Results

Driver standings

Jimmie Johnson tops final Cup practice at Las Vegas

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Jimmie Johnson was the fastest driver in Friday’s second and final NASCAR Cup practice of the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The seven-time Cup champion hasn’t won a race since 2017, but showed plenty of speed, pacing the 38 cars that took to the 1.5-mile track, clocking a best speed of 179.432 mph.

Johnson and his Chevrolet were followed by five Fords.

Clint Bowyer, who was second-fastest in the first practice earlier in the day, was once again second-fast in the final session at 179.271 mph.

Aric Almirola, who was fastest in the first practice, was third-fastest in the final session at 179.170 mph.

Rounding out the top-5 were Kevin Harvick (179.015 mph) and Matt DiBenedetto (178.814 mph).

Sixth through 10th were Ross Chastain (178.660 mph), who will be filling in for the injured Ryan Newman in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400, followed by Kyle Larson (178.424), Ryan Blaney (178.359), John Hunter Nemechek (178.259) and Alex Bowman (178.089).

Final Cup practice results

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Next goals for Daytona winner Denny Hamlin: double-digit wins, Cup crown

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There was a time when Denny Hamlin’s best memories of the Daytona 500 were to just go home relatively unscathed.

Consider this: In Hamlin’s first six appearances in the Great American Race, his highest finish was 17th.

But after a breakthrough 4th-place finish in 2012, he has become the best overall performer in the 500 among active drivers.

“I don’t know what it is, but I think I started studying more about superspeedway racing around that time because I had been so unsuccessful for a very long time,” Hamlin said Friday during a media session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“We went a long time and I’ve won a lot of the Clashes and Duel races, but not many like Talladega – I think I have one win there – but it just seems like it’s that seven or eight years ago that the car came around and whatever techniques I use or I’ve adapted to this car have seemed to work.”

In the last seven editions of the 500, Hamlin has finished 2nd (2014), 4th (2015), 1st (2016), 17th (2017), 3rd (2018), 1st (2019) and 1st again this past Monday.

Do the math and that’s three wins – making him only the sixth driver in NASCAR history to win the 500 three or more times – and seven overall top-5 finishes in the last nine season openers.

Hamlin knew that getting his second 500 win in a row – both outcomes being the closest finishes in the race’s 62-year history – and third in the last five years was basically going to come down to a battle between him, Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney.

With emphasis on Newman, that is, before he was involved in that horrific last lap crash on the front stretch heading toward the checkered flag.

“I pulled the block on (Newman) coming to the white (flag) and I stayed in front and I knew he was going to back up to (Blaney),” Hamlin said. “I was trying to back up myself, but once (Newman) was attached (to Blaney), I knew they were going to come with a run I could not stop.

“I just held my line because if I started going sideways, the next thing you know (Newman) starts moving sideways and (Blaney) is already hooked to him, so he’s probably going to push him sideways into me.

“I just wanted to hold a straight line to let them know hey, pass this way, and when I did I was able to back to (Blaney) and was able to unattach him from (Newman). When I slowed his momentum, that allowed me to really tuck in right behind him. I don’t know if he checked up to keep us attached but once we got attached, I knew we were going to have a run back on (Newman).

“I knew he was going to get there, I didn’t know what was going to happen when he did get there, but certainly it worked out in my favor. I thought I was going to get back around (Blaney) at the (finish) line if there was no crash, but I wasn’t sure I was going to get all the way back to (Newman). I knew those two were going to jostle and I was just hoping to be in the right place when it happened and I was.”

Not having any 500 wins of his own, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch is envious of Hamlin’s three triumphs.

“Denny has really gotten way better ever since this car,” Busch said of Hamlin and how he’s adapted to the Gen 6 car in recent years. “He was always an aggressive plate racer, one that would make moves that you’re kind of, ‘Man, if he would just stay in line, I think this would turn out better.’

“He still does that today, but he’s making it work for himself, that not staying in line is better for Denny. I think since this car came though, he’s been a real good plate racer.

“He’s been fantastic at the game, he’s understood it, he’s made moves that I sometimes wouldn’t make that have worked, he’s able to pass a guy to get in line. … He’s very knowledgeable and skillful In making his moves and passes.”

Going forward from Daytona, Hamlin said his next goal is double-digit wins this season. If so, he’d become the first driver to earn 10 or more wins in a season since Jimmie Johnson did so in 2007 when the seven-time champ won 10 races.

“I’d be satisfied with that and then beyond that would be nice,” Hamlin said. “I think that the championship is an easy goal that anyone just throws out – win a championship, but that comes down to one race.

“If you can win a significant amount of races, it shows a bigger picture of your full year. If you make it to the Final Four, that’s a bigger picture of your entire year (Hamlin has reached the final four just twice since the format was introduced in 2014 — third that year and fourth last season). I think the championship – a successful year is making the Final Four. Anything after that is just whatever it is.

“Certainly we set lofty goals. I think everyone sets huge and lofty goals, but certainly we’re going to push ourselves to better what we did last year and it starts with Daytona and we’re able to repeat there so then let’s get a win now before we get to Texas to keep ourselves on pace or better from last year.”

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Johnny Sauter on pole for tonight’s Truck race in Las Vegas

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Johnny Sauter will start from the pole in tonight’s Strat 200 Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Sauter earned the eighth career pole of his Truck Series career – and first since 2018 – by topping the other 34 drivers that made qualifying attempts with a speed of 177.836 mph.

Sheldon Creed (177.643 mph) will start alongside Sauter on the front row for tonight’s race.

The rest of the top 10 qualifiers were Kyle Busch (177.282 mph), making his first Truck Series start of the season, followed by Christian Eckes (177.189 mph), Ty Majeski (177.189), Austin Hill (176.788 mph), Tyler Ankrum (176.275), Raphael Lessard (176.056), Grant Enfinger (176.010) and Brett Moffitt (175.890).

Tonight’s race starts shortly after 9 p.m. ET (FS1, Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Trucks qualifying results

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