If fans thought Cup drivers’ patience was tested at Daytona, just wait until this weekend’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Sunday’s race will be the first with the new aero package (with some minor variations) that fans and racers will see going forward for each of the 35 remaining races on the Cup schedule this season.
With brake ducts in place at certain tracks such as Atlanta, and aero ducts in place at others (such as next week at Las Vegas Motor Spedway, the racing could be significantly different. Drivers also will be adjusting to lower horsepower (in the 550 range) and speeds, which could impact the action.
“In general, they’re still loose and tight so we haven’t messed up the balance of the race car,” NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development John Probst said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s On Track with Danielle Trotta and Larry McReynolds. “They’re still learning how to complete the pass. The side draft, racers didn’t just learn about it. It took a period of time for them to perfect it, and I think you’ll see the same thing with this package.”
But drivers who struggle with the new package could cause issues for others who adapt more quickly.
“There are going to be times when drivers are going to get a little less patient with the folks in front of them and they’re going to go two- and three-wide, and that will force the drivers behind them to make decisions on who to go with,” Probst said. “I think you’re going to see that ebb and flow. You’ll see drivers that run good at particular tracks in years past will probably still run good, so you’ll probably still see that competitive element.
“I think they’re going to learn as they go, but the cream of the crop is still going to be at the top We’re not trying to change any of that. Time will tell for the rest of them in how they pick up the new package.”
Probst said NASCAR will monitor whether tracks that have cars using brake ducts to tighten the racing this year may switch to aero ducts next year and vice-versa. He also hopes teams don’t push the limits of the new package too much in inspection (which has happened in previous Atlanta races) but conceded it’s possible.
“We don’t want pack racing per se at intermediate tracks,” Probst said. “We don’t think this package will do that. We do feel we will have more side-by-side racing, closer racing, more cars on the lead lap, probably a bigger penalty for a mistake, like if a driver gets loose on entry or something. It’s very possible that will cost them positions now and they’ll have to recover that.
“I think the nature of this package will lend itself to some pretty cool racing depending upon what track we’re at. It will look a bit different at Atlanta vs. Vegas vs. Fontana. Each week will be a little different with the same package. I expect Atlanta will be a very exciting race. And when we go off to Vegas, it’ll likely lend itself even more to side-by-side just because of the fall-off and how smooth that track is there.
“It’s going to look different at each track, but we’re very confident it will provide our goal of having more entertaining races for our fans.”