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.