Crew chief Bootie Barker on low downforce and the politics of tire compounds

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
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The Sprint Cup season is only three weeks old, and teams already are adjusting to the low downforce package instituted by NASCAR.

So much work has been done, the crew chief for Casey Mears says, teams could nullify half of the package’s intentions by midseason, and NASCAR will have to “shave downforce away from us periodically.

“We already have gained I don’t know how much downforce back, and we will continue to find downforce and sideforce,” Barker said on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Theoretically, give us long enough, we’ll be back to where we were before you took it away again.”

Barker, who has been a Sprint Cup crew chief since 2003 and has led Mears to a season-best 14th at Atlanta, likens it to the package taking downforce from 2,000 to 1,000 pounds, and teams already having found a way to add 200 pounds.

“Talk to me in July and we’ll have 1,400 pounds of downforce,” Barker said “So much of what happens, so much of the rules are because of what we do. They’ll make a rule and think they’ll have us in the direction they want to get us, and we completely go the opposite direction. We create something. A good example. (In 1998) I guess, they made the “5-and-5 rule” where the valence had to be 5 inches off the ground and they thought they had something.

“What we did is we went and got really soft springs … then we put a tremendous amount of pitch in the car. Then they go, ‘Now you got to make your nose low again because now they’re taking advantage of that.’ So it never works out the way they want because, obviously, we’re difficult.”

Barker noted the further NASCAR goes with lower downforce, the more Goodyear will have to compensate when it comes to tire compounds.

“Then what they’d have to do is bring a harder tire back in to survive all the downforce,” Barker said, going on to call the issue of soft or hard tires a matter of “politics” for the manufacturer that’s been NASCAR’s exclusive tire provider since 1997.

“If Goodyear went and did a tire that’s soft and aggressive, and then Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushed it too hard and blew the right-front and went into the wall, fans would lose their minds,” Barker said. “Other drivers would get out of the car and blame Goodyear for the tire blowing, when in truth, Goodyear probably told them, ‘Look, it’s going to be soft. If you push it, it might happen, right?’ Then, it’s just bad press.”

Barker said fans who want soft tires and tire fall off without the danger of tire blowouts “can’t have everything.”

“(Goodyear) just can’t afford to go too far and have us blow a tire,” Barker said. ‘I’m telling you the majority of the time that we blow a tire is because we push it.”

The Sprint Cup Series continues its season this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, a much flatter track compared to the speedways in Atlanta and Las Vegas that will involve heavy braking. Based off simulations Barker has seen, the cars will get around the 1-mile track faster than before and the aero package will have an impact.

‘This particular package, they’ve taken away more rear than front,” Barker said. “I would say loose in is still going to be an issue, into (Turn) 3 for sure. Then once you come off (Turns) 1 and 2, because you’re tucked up under someone so much, you get aero tight because it shoots the air off the nose. Absolutely, the aero package will make a difference.”