Long: NASCAR’s Xfinity rules package at Indy leaves drivers talking

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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INDIANAPOLIS —Reduced horsepower, a record number of lead changes and a rankled former champion. Was the future of NASCAR racing on display in Saturday’s Xfinity race?

NASCAR’s effort to add a spark to a sagging event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway showed promise and pitfalls, according to drivers. Whether this package is ready to be used in the Cup series at this track or anywhere else in the Xfintiy Series won’t be determined until series officials talk with drivers.

Former series champ Kyle Busch, who had not been a fan of this package, was less so afterward.

“They wanted to slow down the fastest guy here so the rest of the field could keep up and they did,’’ said Busch, who won the past two Xfintiy races at this track before finishing 12th Saturday.

A goal was to keep cars closer together and the leader from pulling away. It worked. The leader often was shadowed by at least another car throughout the 100-lap event.

William Byron held off Paul Menard over the final 10 laps, finishing .108 seconds ahead to score his third series win in the last five races.

The race also featured 16 lead changes — the former record for this event was nine. Six of those 16 lead changes Saturday were green-flag passes on the track and not related to a driver pitting under green.

“Overall, certainly pleased with what we saw on the racetrack from an eye test,’’ said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “Definitely passing. When you look at metrics, it’s most leaders we’ve had, most lead changes, closest finish.’’

So what’s next?

“Part of our evaluation now will be can we do this in the future?’’ O’Donnell said. “Should we? And are there other racetracks with a similar layout that we may be able to use this at. That’s all future, potential but it is something you can look at for a couple of tracks as well.’’

The aero package, which was developed in an Oct. 12 session with Ryan Reed, Brandon Jones and Blake Koch, included:

  • Using the 2016 rear spoiler, which is 64 3/4 inches wide and 6 inches tall — larger than the rear spoiler used in other races this year.
  • The 2016 splitter package.
  • Aero ducts on the lower front bumper that direct air out the front wheel wells.
  • A 7/8-inch restrictor plate that is used at Daytona and Talladega and takes off about 225 horsepower from what cars run at other tracks

Joey Logano, who placed third, said the rules package changed what drivers had to do in the race.

“You just had to be smart on restarts and knowing when to race guys and when to just keep momentum because if you started losing momentum you lost five or six spots,’’ he said.

What fans saw was three-wide racing in the corner on at least one occasion and a lead change with a car passing on the outside in a turn. Previously, cars three wide in a turn resulted in a crash.

“I think anytime you make the cars … slower, they’re easier to drive,’’ said Reed, who finished sixth. “When they’re easier to drive, you’re able to put them in more difficult positions and come out the other end OK and you’re going to have a little more confidence. I think you’ve got to find a balance because at this level a high-rate of speed is what help defines the sport.

“You don’t want us to go down and run 140 miles an hour and wide open every track, otherwise who wants to watch that? Just find a balance. I think that this may be a step in the right direction. It seems like the racing was better.’’

Speed was an issue drivers mentioned. While any driver wants more horsepower and throttle control, there was the feeling that taking away the restrictor plate would be a good thing.

“That’s a start,’’ Busch said.

Speed also was an issue for Ty Dillon, who finished 10th. He’d like more of it.

Without it, drivers were closer together and blocking was prevalent. Pole-sitter Elliott Sadler forewarned that blocking would lead to a big crash in the race. It didn’t happen, but Dillon worries it could with this package.

“I think there were some guys who were a little more courteous than what they will be in the future and that worries me a little bit,’’ Dillon said. “If the fans like it, we can stick with it. I’m a fan with the original style of it but I’m good with whatever fans want.’’

So, what do you want? NASCAR is listening.

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