TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ryan Newman posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Cup practice session, but he didn’t leave Talladega Superspeedway’s garage encouraged.
Instead, he walked out concerned.
Newman ran a lap of 204.157 mph in the final practice session. He recorded that speed after he led a single-file group of cars as it caught another pack, gaining the draft.
“Pretty much any car could have done that,” Newman told NBC Sports of his lap.
He then continued: “204 is way too fast. We’ve established that over the last 10 years. That’s when cars get airborne. They raised the back of the cars up an inch and it just packs more air underneath them.
“I hope we keep them on the ground and get lucky because I don’t think they’ve done a good job of keeping them on the ground or making an effort to keep them on the ground. We’ve got Daytona behind us without getting any cars airborne, at least to my knowledge or recollection. I hope we can keep the string going.”
Asked if anything could be changed for this weekend, Newman, who has gone airborne multiple times in his career, said:
“No. Nothing now. They gave us a straight piece of metal (for a wicker atop the rear spoiler) and told us to bend it up and that’s our piece to work with for the weekend. … That’s poor preparation on their part.”
Through the years, NASCAR has added roof flaps, hood flaps and deck fins to reduce the chance of a car getting airborne. Those were implemented after NASCAR researched vehicle liftoff, car design and did wind tunnel testing. NASCAR stated to NBC Sports that its research has shown that most incidents of the Gen-6 car leaving the racing surface are related to contact from another vehicle.
NASCAR also stated that the no-ride height rule last year was a direct result of aero liftoff testing and significantly decreased the possibility of aero liftoff occurring.
NASCAR mandated two changes for Friday’s final practice — including the addition of the wicker on the rear spoiler — after Kurt Busch posted the fastest lap of 202.671 mph in the opening session.
While six cars topped 204 mph in the final practice session, all of them were in the same group that caught the draft of another pack of cars.
Series officials consulted with several drivers after the final practice session and no further changes were announced Friday night.
Competitors said while they felt the overall lap speeds were slower in the final practice session, the closing rate on cars seemed faster.
“That’s surprising,” Jimmie Johnson, who went 201.706 mph in the final practice session, told NBC Sports. “Here you add a 9-inch spoiler and you add that little wicker, it’s pretty small on the scale of the rest of it. There’s usually a bubble (of air) when you get a couple of feet away from a (rear) bumper and that bubble is gone. You go right to their bumper.”
Ryan Blaney, whose top lap in the final practice session was 195.492 mph, also told NBC Sports that he felt the runs were “a little bit bigger. You could draft up to cars faster. That was noticeable. Other than that, going a little bit slower, which is what they wanted.
“It will be an interesting race. We haven’t gotten runs like this ever since I’ve been running the Cup stuff. I don’t think you’ll see any of that leader blocking both lanes just because that air bubble is pretty much gone. You get massive runs.”
Asked if he was concerned about the closing speed, Brad Keselowski said: “Just concerned about winning.”
Rookie Matt Tifft, who was fourth in the final practice session with a lap of 204.092 mph, also noticed the change in closing speed. But something else also stood out to him in practice.
“You could be the trail car and fall three car lengths (behind) and if they were two-wide you could catch right back up,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “Normally, you would be in jeopardy, but I felt like you could catch back up a little bit easier because of the drag off the other cars.”