NASCAR schedules critical meeting for 2016 rules

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JOLIET, Ill. – NASCAR will hold a meeting with drivers, crew chiefs, manufacturers and Goodyear next Friday in New Hampshire to help chart the course for the 2016 Sprint Cup rules package.

“I think (the rules will) be finalized,” Goodyear general manager of worldwide racing Stu Grant told NASCAR Talk in a Saturday interview at Chicagoland Speedway. “It should be a good session to say here’s where we are going to make sure we’re on the same page.”

After receiving rave reviews at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway, it’s expected the low-downforce package assuredly will be implemented next season at 1.5-mile superspeedways (which comprise the bulk of the schedule with 13 of 36 races).

Grant expects much of Friday’s discussion to focus on whether the low-downforce package also would be used at short tracks (Richmond International Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway) and the bigger ovals (Michigan International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway).

The low downforce package is intended to reduce the emphasis on aerodynamics, theoretically enhancing drivers’ ability to pass because their cars aren’t as glued to the asphalt. Aerodynamics typically play less of a role on short tracks, but there was chatter last Saturday after a mostly lackluster regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway that low downforce would work on the 0.75-mile oval.

“The driver feedback is even at a place like Richmond, you can feel the aero effect,” Grant  said. “Obviously, the shorter the track, lower speeds, less aero comes into play. But off Darlington, they have said they would have liked that package at Richmond.”

The low-downforce package earned positive feedback during a two-day test this week at Kansas Speedway.

“The car feels so much better to me,” said six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, one of four drivers in the tire test. “I’m excited for ’16, and hope that we’re going to peel a bunch more downforce off the cars like at Darlington and Kentucky.

“(The Kansas test) was the first experience I had where the softest and fastest tire was the one Goodyear wanted to use. Uusally they’re saying we’re going to take a step back from the one everybody loved, and they were all about it. They loved the fact it fired off fast and had a ton of drop off. I think we’re getting into a situation where Goodyear will be more comfortable taking softer tires to the track.”

Indeed, Grant said Goodyear is a “big fan” of using low downforce more frequently.

“It brings tires into play and takes aero away,” he said. “We were really happy with the results we had (at Kansas). We’re big fans of taking the air away. The stress on the tire and loads run for years has been tough at these fast tracks. Take some of the load off the tire, and it gives us more freedom to design. I like that.”

Goodyear will begin production on its NASCAR tires by the end of October for next season’s Daytona 500 (though that race wouldn’t feature low downforce). It has scheduled further 2016 testing within the next month at Phoenix International Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway and also will test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in December and Las Vegas Motor Speedway in January.