Ryan: Low downforce should be high priority in Chase

6 Comments

Here is the argument for running low downforce during the Chase for the Sprint Cup: The racing will be better.

Here is the argument against running low downforce during the Chase for the Sprint Cup: The racing will be better.

Makes sense? It shouldn’t, and that’s the problem.

The racing will be better … but the tires won’t be matched. And the teams won’t be as comfortable. And the Chase won’t track with rules used for the bulk of the regular season.

These are valid concerns, particularly if the primary objective is keeping drivers and teams happy.

But there is one indisputably niggling fact, and it’s hard to overlook if the primary objective is making fans happy.

The racing will be better if NASCAR bravely calls an audible for the Chase and institutes the low-downforce package that met with smashingly positive reviews at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway.

Curiously, this truism somehow has been perverted into a major reason for staying the course on a rules configuration that clearly has produced a less compelling brand of action this season.

The implication is that, while conceding the racing would be improved with a switch to less downforce, the rules won’t be as “fair” because teams won’t be as prepared after having spent so much money and time optimizing their cars for a Chase run under the 2015 rules.

This line of reasoning sets the regular season as a framework for the playoffs. Even if the rules had drivers on throttle for a much higher percentage of every lap, making passing much more difficult and increasing the aerodynamic advantage to the leader, they should remain static because they were used in the bulk of races in 2015.

This is wrong on its face.

Changing the rules for the playoffs follows the same guiding principle as chopping the cars’ spoilers to remove downforce. In both cases, it’s about degree of difficulty.

Just as it’s supposed to be harder to drive the cars, it also should be a stiffer test to win the title over the final 10 races of the Chase. The playoffs, which essentially are a second season designed to produce surprises, will be hailed as a success if they are disparate from a regular season that featured too many humdrum events.

Yes, teams have devoted much of their resources to developing their chassis and engines under the rules originally set for the ’15 season. But as Carl Edwards noted after his Southern 500 win Sunday, teams also have focused an inordinate amount of R&D time on low downforce, too.

The most legitimate case for keeping the ‘15 rules? It’s too late to construct specially made compounds matched to low downforce for the Chase. Goodyear typically needs at least two to three months of lead time.

But there also wasn’t enough time to build a tire to match the low-downforce package’s debut July 11 at Kentucky Speedway.

The “wrong” tire there resulted in the season’s best race (a 132 percent increase in green-flag passing over the previous year).

Admittedly, drivers won’t be as content with a tire that could be softer.

Again, it’s a question about what is “fair.”

As the late Charlotte Observer columnist David Poole once said, fair is a place you go for funnel cakes.

The mantra from NASCAR over the past six years has been that fan satisfaction should supersede everything in determining its direction. Whether installing double-file restarts or making three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, there often has been little fair to competitors about the recent initiatives aimed at increasing the entertainment value.

The same concept holds true for low downforce.

The racing will be better.

Shouldn’t the debate over using it in the Chase end there?

NASCAR releases Cup rules packages for 2021

Leave a comment

NASCAR announced Thursday its rules package slate for the 2021 Cup Series season, a day after next year’s schedule was unveiled.

For returning tracks to the 36-race schedule, the rules are largely unchanged save for Darlington Raceway.

Cup teams will use the 750 horsepower, low downforce race package at the 1.366-mile track. It’s the package that’s been used this season on road courses and short tracks. Nashville Superspeedway, the 1.333-mile track being added in 2021, will use the same package.

The packages for the other new race tracks – Road America, Circuit of the Americas and the Indy road course – have not been decided on.

“We constantly review the race packages to try to put on the best possible racing for our fans,” John Probst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice Presiden of Innovation and Racing Development said in a media release. “When he brought in the short track / road course package this season, Darlington was not part of it due to its unique size. We’ve been evaluating data from both race packages, as well as feedback from drivers, teams and OEMs and feel that the 750 hp / low downforce package best fits the track.”

Other rule changes include:

  • Teams are restricted to 150 restricted computational fluid dynamics runs per calendar month.
  • Teams must compete in a minimum of 16 points events with a short block sealed engine (up from 13).

Click here for the rule packages for each Cup race in 2021.

Team Penske looks to extend Talladega dominance amid 2020 woes

Leave a comment

If there’s one thing Talladega Superspeedway is known for, it’s chaos.

But for as much chaos as the 2.66-mile track can provide, Talladega has another quality it produces: consistency in Victory Lane.

In the 2010s and up through the June Cup race, the consistency has been produced by Team Penske.

Since May 2012, Penske drivers have won nine of 17 races. Brad Keselowski has four of his five Talladega wins, Joey Logano has three and Ryan Blaney has won each of the last two races by .007 seconds.

The other eight races were won by Roush Fenway Racing (two wins), Hendrick Motorsports (two), Front Row Motorsports (one), Chip Ganassi Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (one) and Joe Gibbs Racing (one).

When it comes to races like this weekend’s playoff event (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), one would expect even more chaos and less consistency among winners.

You’d be wrong on the latter.

Penske’s three drivers have combined to win five of the last six Talladega playoff races. The winner of the sixth race was Aric Almirola in the 2018 playoff race.

Last week Keselowski observed how races at superspeedways have “ebbs and flows” with them currently resembling “a MAVTV demo derby just a little faster.”

On Thursday, the 2012 Cup champion credited Team Penske having a “great” driver lineup with its ability to win in a form of racing that’s constantly evolving.

“I think we have the strongest driver lineup in Cup right now,” Keselowski said. “I know that’s probably arguable and it’s completely subjective. That’s played to our favorite tracks like the plate tracks and we’re going to continue to try and leverage it.”

While Blaney has enjoyed recent success at Talladega with his two victories, Keselowski looks to re-establish his winning ways at the track he has five victories, the most among active drivers.

After winning the 2017 playoff race, he has five consecutive finishes of 13th or worse, including two DNFs for wrecks.

“It’s been up and down for me,” Keselowski said. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were going to win the race with two or three (laps) to go. We were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. It’s a love-hate affair with that track for sure and hopefully we’ll love it. I feel like we’re due for a good finish there.”

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race after miserable outings in the last two playoff races. He finished 34th at Bristol (power steering problems) and 13th at Las Vegas.

Talladega could be the relief Keselowski’s teammates are looking for as well.

Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, hasn’t had a top-five finish in the last nine races. Logano, while he has two top fives in the playoffs (third at Darlington and Richmond), hasn’t won since the March race at Phoenix. That was the last race before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Keselowski said “it is a bit strange” that Team Penske can view Talladega as a track where it can turn its season around.

“We haven’t been where we want to be on the mile-and-a-halfs, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “The mile-and-a-halfs and road courses have been a weak spot for us. The superspeedways and short tracks have been a strong spot for us. Thankfully we have the superspeedway this weekend and couple of short tracks coming up in the next round (Martinsville).

“We need to kind of maximize out strengths and minimize our weaknesses. This weekend is certainly looking like a strength for us. We have high expectations.”

Kaz Grala subs for Natalie Decker in Talladega Truck race

Kaz Grala
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Natalie Decker has not been medically cleared to compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at Talladega (1 p.m. ET on FS1) and will be replaced by Kaz Grala in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet the team announced Thursday.

Decker withdrew from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas after she was not medically cleared shortly before the race. She was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker tweeted Saturday that she was flying home where “more tests (would be) run so they can further evaluate and diagnose.”

No further details about Decker’s condition have been announced.

“We are thankful that Kaz is able to fill in for Natalie this weekend and appreciate him working with our team,” team general manager Cody Efaw said in a press release. “We wish Natalie the best as she works to be as healthy as possible to return to racing.”

Grala will make his first Truck Series start since 2017. He has 32 career starts in the series, including one win in the 2017 season-opening race at Daytona.

He drove in Austin Dillon’s place earlier this year in the Cup race on the Daytona road course after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19.

“My thoughts will be with Natalie this weekend as I wish her a quick recovery,” Grala said in a press release. “I know she loves the restrictor-plate races, so I feel bad that she’ll have to miss this one, but I hope I can give her something to cheer for on Saturday. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Truck, but the superspeedway races have been very good to me in the past, so I’m really hoping to be able to go grab a win for Niece Motorsports at Talladega.”

FanVision closes due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic

Leave a comment

FanVision Entertainment, the company that produces video devices used by race fans at NASCAR events, has ceased operations due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was announced in a statement from Racing Electronics, the company which sold and supported FanVision devices at NASCAR tracks through a license with FanVision Entertainment.

Racing Electronics, which is owned by NASCAR, can no longer sell or support the devices.

“We recognize this news will be met with disappointment by motorsports fans across the country who utilized FanVision’s products as part of their at-track experience,” Racing Electronics president Chad Willis said in a statement.

“To help fans and industry members transition to Racing Electronics products, we are working with existing FanVision device owners to solve their race day needs. When Racing Electronics returns to the track, fans and industry members will have access to all the sounds that make racing so special.”