Last October, three Xfinity Series teams journeyed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help figure out how to make NASCAR racing at the historic track better and more enticing.
The teams of Blake Koch, Ryan Reed and Brandon Jones spent Oct. 11 trying eight different car setups – with various splitter heights and gear ratios – for a 2017 rules test.
Koch, who drives for Kaulig Racing, remembers three of those setups which were used in mock races as an evaluation for potential implementation of restrictor plates to the 2.5-mile track.
One package, which Koch “didn’t like at all,” was ineffective as all three cars couldn’t keep together.
Another saw the trailing cars able to “really suck up to the car in front of you and try to make that pass, but you kind of stalled out when you got next to them.”
The third package inspired NASCAR’s announcement last week that restrictor plates would be used for the July 22 race at IMS. Koch said it may lead to “a wild race” at the track known for hosting the “Great Spectacle in Racing” in May.
During a series of five-lap races between the three cars, Koch told NBC Sports he, Jones and Reed were “bumper-to-bumper” the entire time, with the lead changing as much as twice a lap.
“It just opened up a bigger air pocket to where you could get a run on the car in front of you and just keep that run going and clear them,” Koch said. “Once two of you cleared the first-place car, that first-place car could actually get back behind you and suck up back to you and pass you back.”
This is the type of action NASCAR is seeking to replace what fans have become accustomed to at the track that also hosts the Indianapolis 500 (which has produced at least 30 lead changes for five consecutive years, including a record 68 in 2013 and 54 in 2016)
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Last year, Kyle Busch led 62 of 63 laps in the Xfinity Series’ main event at IMS. The next day, Busch led 149 of 170 laps before winning the Brickyard 400. Reed says that such dominance will be a thing of the past.
“It’s less of an advantage (where) one car’s going to hit it and they’re just going to dominate the race. You’re not going to have that,” Reed told NBC Sports. “You’re going to have at least the top 10 be able to win the race.”
In the July 22 Xfinity race, in addition to the restrictor plates, cars will have the spoiler and splitter measurements from 2016 along with the first use of aero ducts, or “drag ducts.” The ducts work in concert with the existing brake ducts (for brake cooling) on the car. The aero ducts help direct more air into the car and shoot it out the side through the wheel wells. By kicking air out the side, it helps punch a bigger hole in the air, allowing the trailing car to get more momentum.
“You’re not going to be able to break away,” Koch said. “There’s no way the lead car will be able to break away from anybody.”
Koch predicts racing packs of about five cars, while Reed sees groups ranging from 10 to 15 with gaps between them.
Koch cautioned the final result won’t look exactly like what fans are used to with one pack of cars at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
“You’re not going to be able to run around that place wide open in a pack, you’re just not,” Koch said. “You’re going to have to make methodical passes and spit someone out and they’re probably going to go from first or second to 25th in one lap. Then they’re going to get help and they’re going to shoot to the front.”
Reed, who captured his second Daytona win last month, disagrees with the last part of Koch’s assessment.
“When we go back there with 39 other guys, it’s going to be a lot different,” Reed said. “When you get in 20th place and you’re in the middle of the pack in dirty air it’s not going to be easy. That place isn’t easy to run around in dirty air if there’s one car in front of you. You get 20 cars in front of you it’s going to be really tough.”
And if the race that is delivered in four months doesn’t live up to expectation and hopes?
“If the fans want to see something different, then we need to do something different,” Koch said. “I think it’s just proof NASCAR’s always trying to please the fans, which is a big deal I think. They are important to us. If they don’t like this package, I’m sure we’ll change it again.”
But Reed sees nothing in the October test to make him believe fan’s expectations should be tempered for the July 22 race.
“It’s going to make the racing a lot better,” Reed said. “Fans are going to have a lot more fun with it. It’s going to be a lot more competitive race. I believe that with 100 percent confidence.”
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