A by-the-numbers look at lower downforce’s impact a year after its debut at Kentucky

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SPARTA, Ky. – If NASCAR seems headed in the right direction with its rules, Kentucky Speedway might mark the line of demarcation where the turnaround began.

The 2015 visit by the Sprint Cup Series marked the debut of a lower downforce rules package that resulted in 2,665 green-flag passes (a 132 percent increase over 1,147 in 2014) and a track-record 22 green-flag passes for the lead.

The changes came at the behest of the drivers, and it resulted in NASCAR keeping the main elements – namely, a 3.5-inch spoiler – as the base for its rules this season.

“I would say this race a year ago was a huge landmark for our sport that maybe goes a little bit unnoticed,” Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski said. “In terms of we had a collaborative effort for a rules package, and we saw a significant increase, in my opinion, of the on-track product that we saw.  And I think that showcased a lot of hope for our abilities to work together as a sport that has kind of created a wave of momentum that we’re carrying today.”

Carl Edwards said the overwhelming consensus from drivers after last year’s Kentucky race helped drive the changes.

“Everyone’s demeanor, even guys that weren’t in it for the win, everybody got out and said, ‘That was fun,’ ” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. “NASCAR did a really great job at responding to that and implementing a lot of that stuff for this season.”

With the new rules helping decrease corner speeds, increase passing zones and keeping drivers off the accelerator, there have been noticeable impacts on track in 2016:

–There were records for green-flag passes for the lead at Auto Club Speedway (51), Bristol Motor Speedway (40) and Atlanta Motor Speedway (44).

–At Richmond International Raceway, which moved its April race from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, overall passes (2,083) and green-flag lead changes (18, a six-year high) increased from last season.

–The Sprint All-Star Race, despite a confounding format, produced 17 green-flag passes for the lead, nearly doubling last year’s total of nine.

Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at the repaved 1.5-mile oval will mark the second points race this season with a modified version of lower downforce that features a 2.5-inch spoiler, a splitter reduced to 2 inches and resized deck fin. It also sets the rear toe to neutral, preventing teams from “skewing” the cars to generate sideforce.

The changes also were used at Michigan International Speedway and in the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Off his victory last Saturday in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, Keselowski is optimistic about how it’ll work at Kentucky.

“Thinking about the sport in general, a lot of strong momentum with things that are going on behind the scenes that I’m thrilled about with the cars and the rules and all the collaboration,” he said. “It’s really a fun time for me personally and professionally with everything that’s going on.”