Despite some car owners calling for NASCAR to use the All-Star aero package at additional Cup races this season, NASCAR announced Thursday it will not do so this year.
“What we want to do is to continue to deliver on that great racing product and to do that we need to spend the proper time talking to the engine builders, the (car manufacturers) and race teams to see what, if anything, we could do this year,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer told NASCAR.com. “We all collectively felt like the best thing to do was to put additional effort into some potential tweaks and focus on 2019 vs. a race or two this season. Everyone is aligned on doing what is best for the fans.”
The package, which includes a restrictor plate, air ducts, a taller spoiler and the 2014 style splitter, was first used in the Xfinity Series last season at Indianapolis and used in that series at Pocono and Michigan. It will be employed again in that series at Indianapolis in September. It is not scheduled to be run in any other Xfinity races this season after that.
The reviews have been mixed for the package in the Xfinity Series. Indianapolis had closer racing, but Pocono saw the field get strung out. Some suggested that the cars were too slow at Pocono with the restrictor plate. The Xfinity cars ran closer at Michigan but passing was more difficult.
The challenge for Cup teams were many. Based on the charter agreement with NASCAR, since this was not a safety change, Cup teams had to approve the move because of the additional costs to them. Also, engine builders were involved in the conversations because they build engines weeks ahead of time and finding the right races proved limiting because the industry didn’t appear interested in running the package in the playoffs.
Michigan and Indianapolis were the two tracks most often mentioned as candidates to run this package again this season, but that raised an issue among some. They wanted to see what it could do on a 1.5-mile track after the All-Star Race, which provided closer racing than previous years but that event was broken into short segments of 30 laps or less.
There were questions about how well the package would be for a full fuel run. With only two 1.5-mile tracks left on the Cup schedule before the playoffs, those choices were limited. Eventually, it became too late for teams and engine builders to prepare for the July 1 race at Chicagoland Speedway. As time passed, it became more challenging for the package to be used at the July 14 event at Kentucky Speedway.
“One of the clear takeaways is that this is not something you would want to implement at every race track,” O’Donnell told NASCAR.com. “There are certain race tracks we want to potentially target. Finding the optimal horsepower-to-downforce ratio will be a key focal point to continue to improve the race package.
Even as NASCAR examined this matter, drivers raised different opinions.
Brad Keselowski was vocal at Michigan, raising concerns about running the package (and the restrictor plate) at more tracks.
“I think that package needs to remain solely at the All-Star race,’’ Keselowski said earlier this month. “A lot of the drivers in this sport are in a position where they chose Cup racing because of the demands the cars take to drive. I think there are a lot of fans that come to our races expecting to see the best drivers.
“I think if you put a package like this out there, like what we had at the Charlotte All-Star race, on a consistent basis that the best drivers in the world would no longer go to NASCAR. They’ll pick a different sport. That won’t happen overnight. That will happen over time. I think that would be a tragedy to this sport because the best race car drivers want to go where they can make the biggest difference to their performance. There’s no doubt that you make less of a difference in that configuration.’’
Denny Hamlin was encouraged by the package after the non-points race in May.
“As a driver, I had fun, I really did,’’ he said. “Didn’t have the fastest car, but at least there were moments where you had to be very strategic in what you had to do. It was a mix between a normal open race and a superspeedway. … I’d like to see it at a few other tracks. if it came this year, It would definitely be OK by me.’’
Even after the All-Star Race, O’Donnell said the focus was on 2019. Asked that night if the package could be used again this season, O’Donnell said: “I would never say never, but our intent is we’ve talked coming into this, was to try this here, then really take a deep dive into how do we make this the best package possible for 2019 if we liked what we saw.”
But as momentum built for the package — car owners Richard Childress and Roger Penske both said they would be for running it again this season.
“Anything that is good for our sport right now, which I think it would be, I’m for it,’’ Childress told NBC Sports in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I’m putting RCR aside and looking at the sport itself. If everybody in this garage will do that … put the sport first and we all go out and put the best show for the fans in the stands, that’s what we’ve got to do.’’
All-Star winner Kevin Harvick cautioned many to temper their excitement about the package after the exhibition race but agreed the event could be significant for NASCAR in years to come.
“I’d like to make sure we don’t jump and say this is the save all, do all package,” he said. “I’d like to see it slowly transformed into points paying races because I think the preparation level will be a little bit different from every team in the garage. I just want to make sure we cycle it in correctly, make sure it fits in well for the teams to be able to afford the things that need to be done to get the cars right.
“There’s a lot of things to balance. Tonight’s race was very aggressive, and this is the perfect spot to try stuff like this. I think as you look at the effort that the teams put in to make all this happen was pretty high. The chance that NASCAR and Marcus (Smith of Speedway Motorsports Inc.) and everybody took to put this into the All‑Star Race is brave, bold. I think when you look at NASCAR racing in five years, I think you’ll look back at tonight and say it looks like this and it all started here.”