What a difference a week makes.
Five days after multiple drivers were critical of the Cup Series rules package and its impact on competition at Dover International Speedway, the strongest negative comments after Saturday’s Kansas race were about blocking.
The Digital Ally 400 saw a frenzy of action in its final stage as four drivers swapped the lead over the last 43 laps, with Brad Keselowski leading the final 11 laps.
The race also experienced 41 green flag passes for the lead, a track record, and 3,448 overall passes, more than twice the number in last year’s race. Those passes included multiple instances of three-wide and even four-wide racing at times on restarts.
With the race held under the lights and in 50-degree weather, Keselowski said he expected racing to be side-by-side.
The Team Penske driver said this year’s rule package has flipped the script on what to expect from night races.
“I think I told somebody today that it used to be we wanted daytime races because it fit the rules,” Keselowski said after his win. “Now it’s the opposite. Nighttime is the new daytime for NASCAR as far as the racing being better … because it gives you the grip to be able to take advantage of what this car or rules setup is designed for.
“With it being cool temperatures and being a night race, I think that’s exactly what we saw, and that’s part of why the cars were double file a lot of times in a race where normally they wouldn’t be.”
Erik Jones, who finished third, said Saturday’s race “was the closest iteration that NASCAR is … shooting for. We were very close to wide open and there was definitely some pack racing moments after the restarts and stuff like that. Both of those things combined lent to that.”
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, believes the rules package’s “body of work” on the intermediate tracks like Kansas “kind of speaks for itself.”
O’Donnell made his comments Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”
“When you look at apples to apples of Vegas and that race and Texas and Kansas, I think we’ve certainly proven that the data that we came into this rules package with at the intermediate tracks has proven out,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said data from the race weekend matched up with what NASCAR had seen in CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) data and testing.
“When we started practice we were spot on, on- and off-throttle time matched up with what we thought as well,” O’Donnell said. “Then you look at past races and surprisingly the Kansas spring race last year played out almost exactly like this year. We had a competition caution on Lap 30 here. You got a caution on roughly Lap 30 in the spring last year. Same thing with green flag pit stops. The data when you compare it from this year to last year is kind of apples to apples, which is good for us. It showed some definite progress.”