NASCAR will not use All-Star aero package again this season in Cup

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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.”

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Long: Path to better NASCAR shouldn’t be us vs. them

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A tug-of-war is emerging in NASCAR that is unsettling and unnecessary.

This is not us vs. them.

This should be us and them — collaboration not conflict.

Instead, a fissure has developed between competitors and fans over the aero package and restrictor plates used in last month’s All-Star race. As talks continue among teams, drivers, engine builders and NASCAR on where to run this package again this season, questions have been raised about the type of racing it creates.

Former champion Brad Keselowski says that using the package too often could have long-term negative effects for the sport. But many fans were encouraged by the closer racing the package produced in the All-Star event. Their excitement helped spur NASCAR to examine running that package later this season — likely Michigan in August and Indianapolis in September — after the sanctioning body initially downplayed the chances of doing so.

It’s not uncommon for competitors and fans to be on opposite sides, but this issue cuts to a basic premise. What makes better racing? What lengths should NASCAR pursue to achieve that?

While fans see the potential for added excitement on the track, Keselowski sees a driver’s ability lessened.

“I think there are a lot of fans that come to our races expecting to see the best drivers,’’ he said this past weekend at Michigan International Speedway. “I think if you put a package like this out there, like we had at the All-Star race on a consistent basis, that the best drivers in the world will no longer go to NASCAR.

“They want to go where they can make the biggest difference to their performance and there is no doubt that the driver makes less of a difference with that rules package.”

That didn’t seem to matter to many fans after the All-Star race. Social media reaction and effusive fan comments on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio followed for days after the non-points race — a reaction rarely seen about that race in recent years.

Although the aero package and restrictor plate combination has been tried at Indianapolis, Pocono and Michigan in the Xfinity Series and at Charlotte in Cup, NASCAR has not stated how many races or where they hope to run this type of package in 2019 and beyond.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, stressed that Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, saying: “This (package) is not something we’re looking at for every race. I see some of our current drivers make assumptions when they don’t have all the facts. It’s something we’re looking at for a few tracks. If we could pull it off and improve on something, we will but also very happy with the racing we have today.”

With restrictor plates choking horsepower and aero changes intended to help cars run closer, Keselowski’s concern is that races on some 1.5- or 2-mile tracks will look similar to the racing at Daytona and Talladega. That means drivers are less in control of their fate.

“I would say most plate tracks, first through fourth has control of their own destiny and have acquired that finish based on talent, skill, etc.,’’ said Keselowski, whose five Talladega wins and one Daytona triumph are the most victories at restrictor-plate tracks than any other active driver. “From there on back it is a random bingo ball.”

Hall of Famer Mark Martin tweeted that he agreed with Keselowski and said that while he enjoys many of the changes the sport has made — including the playoffs and stage racing — he does not want to see a package that makes it easier for more drivers to win Cup races.

“Racing in NASCAR is supposed to be the hardest, most difficult thing that you could ever try to do as a race car driver,’’ Martin said this past weekend at Michigan. “It really, really hurts me to think about that we want to change to satisfy Johnny-come-lately fans.

“There are some issues that could be addressed about our racing, but artificially making the racing exciting for a portion of the fans to me is not what, I’d rather see that in (the Xfinity) race, not (the Cup) race.”

Sports need to be challenging. Sports also need to entertain and wow fans with feats that no average person can do. It’s why people watch LeBron James on a basketball court, Tom Brady on a football field and Sidney Crosby at a hockey rink. Rules have changed over the years in their sports, some dramatic, some subtle, but their athletic prowess remains constant.

Even if a driver’s ability may be limited in a handful of races that doesn’t mean that some fan can do what Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson do in a car. 

The restrictor plates and aero package used in the All-Star race and at Xfinity races, create a different set of challenges for drivers but still allows them to display their ability.

“I think it’s a different type of talent,’’ Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon said this past weekend. “To be inches off of one another, pushing, shoving, wide open around there, making the correct moves, jumping out of line at the right times.

“It’s a real chess match out there and putting yourself in a good position is very key. I think it’s a different type of talent, obviously, than what we do every week. I think it’s good to have these type of races. If the fans love to see it and it looks good and creates drama, I like it. I don’t know its an every week package but for these types of tracks it’s good.”

It’s not just NASCAR facing such issues. This is a topic in IndyCar, particularly with the Indianapolis 500.

Last month’s 500 featured 31 lead changes. That was more lead changes in any Indianapolis 500 from 1911-2011.

Problem was that the 31 lead changes this year were the fewest since 2011. The race averaged 44.7 lead changes from 2012-17 when it appeared more like a video game with its back-and-forth passing.

This year’s total marked a 30.7 percent decline in lead changes. It’s why some have wondered if rule changes need to be made for that series to make passing easier at the front — and in theory make the race more exciting.

There needs to be a balance there and for each motorsports series. Not every race will be spectacular. Not every game is in other sports. For every moment of greatness, there are others that are merely satisfying. The key is to find a way that appeals to fans and also works with competitors. 

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Are more limits coming for Cup drivers in Xfinity, Truck Series?

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NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell hinted Monday that a decision could be coming soon on if to further limit Cup drivers next year in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series.

O’Donnell, chief racing development officer for NASCAR, made the comments on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Asked about any discussion on Cup drivers in those series beyond this season, O’Donnell said:

I think it’s trying to find that right balance. Some of the tracks we race on don’t have a Monster Energy race and is that a track that maybe one of those drivers could show up and race at? Perhaps.

“More and more the fans are speaking very loudly that they like the rising talent that we have in this series, we do as well, and the established veterans that are there. That is continuing on and we’ll have to make a decision really, really quickly in terms of what we do for 2019. We took a pretty bold step this year and that’s something we’ve got to evaluate and see if we want to go further.’’

NASCAR announced last August that Cup drivers with more than five years full-time experience would be limited to a maximum seven Xfinity races this season (down from 10 in 2017) and a maximum five Camping World Truck Series races (down from seven in 2017).

Also, any driver who elects to score Cup points, regardless of Cup experience, are prohibited from competing in the regular-season finale, the seven playoff races and the four Dash 4 Cash races. That means such drivers are ineligible to compete in 12 of the 33 Xfinity races this season.

Drivers who score Cup points are barred from competing in the last eight Truck races of the season — regular-season finale and the seven playoff races. That means Cup drivers cannot compete in seven of the 23 Truck races.

O’Donnell said in April on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials were monitoring the reaction of fans and others in the sport about limits on Cup drivers in other national series.

“It’s one thing to say we like this, but fans need to turn out, ratings need to be there and those sorts of things,’’ O’Donnell said at the time. “That’s something that we’ll continue to monitor, but our gut tells us that’s the direction we want to continue to go, even more so in 2019 and beyond.’’

Xfinity races run so far by Cup drivers (limit 7) in 2018:

4 – Kyle Busch

4 – Ty Dillon

3 – Austin Dillon 

3 – Chase Elliott

3 – Joey Logano

3 – Jamie McMurray

2 – Ryan Blaney

2 – Kevin Harvick 

2 – Brad Keselowski

2 – Kyle Larson

1 – Aric Almirola

1 – Gray Gaulding

1 – Paul Menard 

1 – Daniel Suarez

NOTE: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Alex Bowman are on preliminary entry list for Michigan Xfinity race.

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All-Star Race package could be used in up to three points races in 2018

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NASCAR is exploring potentially using the rules package from last month’s All-Star Race in up to three Cup points races this season, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said in an interview with Fox Sports 1.

O’Donnell was asked about NASCAR’s discussions regarding the package Saturday at Pocono Raceway.

O’Donnell said NASCAR is looking at using the package “at one or two or possibly three events” to help “see if this is the direction we want to pursue for 2019.”

The package includes a restrictor plate, air ducts, a taller spoiler and the 2014 style splitter.

A similar package debuted in the Xfinity Series last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Xfinity is using it again this weekend at Pocono and next week at Michigan International Speedway. All three tracks could be sites for the Cup Series to use the package again this season.

Cup will make its second visit to Pocono on July 29, Michigan on Aug. 12 and Indy hosts the regular season finale on Sept. 9.

“For us, it’s making sure everybody has had enough time to look at it, had enough time to evaluate it,” O’Donnell said. “If you look back at it, we really only ran it last year at Indy and the All-Star Race and this weekend is the first-time in Xfinity at Pocono.

“Taking all that data and evaluating if this is right direction to go is the first step.”

After making sure the product put on the track with the package is an “improvement for fans,” O’Donnell said the next challenge for NASCAR is ensuring “that when everyone rolls into the garage they feel we are on as level a playing field as possible – that’s the OEMS (manufacturers), engine builders and race teams – and the team that puts the most into that still has the best chance to win.

“If we can do all those things, then that’s when we put it out on the track.”

Two Hall of Fame owners, Richard Childress and Roger Penske, have already voiced their support for using the package.

“Anything that is good for our sport right now, which I think it would be, I’m for it,” Richard Childress said. “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.”

Roger Penske said: “Directionally, I think it’s the right thing to do. What I like about it is we’re trying something.”

On Friday, multiple Cup drivers said adjustments should be made to make the package harder to drive.

All-Star Race buzz still has many in NASCAR talking

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The rules package and racing in Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race and Monster Open has many in the sport debating what to do next.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief racing development officer, said Monday on “The Morning Drive” that series officials will meet Wednesday with industry officials to discuss the race and “see where we go from here.”

The Xfinity Series will run a similar package this season at Pocono (June 2), Michigan (June 9) and Indianapolis (Sept. 8) after running it only at Indy last year.

MORE: Transcript of NASCAR’s comments after the All-Star Race

While O’Donnell noted Saturday night that he would “never say never” to running what was used in the All-Star race again later this year in Cup, he said the focus was on 2019 for the package.

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said he would be for running the package in Cup at Kentucky (July 14). Kentucky is the last 1.5-mile track on the schedule before the playoffs begin in September.

“Certainly that track has been a place where R&D for the rest of the sport has happened, and we’d be happy to have it again there,” Smith told NBC Sports about Kentucky. “Any mile-and-a-half track, whether it’s ours or not. My interest is in making the whole sport fantastic, and I think we’ve got great opportunities for that.’’

Car owner Joe Gibbs said after the All-Star Race that more evaluation is needed with the package.

“I think there’s a lot to talk about,” Gibbs told NBC Sports after the race. “I’m sure we’ll make a good decision. Everybody is going to work together. I think (the race) will be something that everybody evaluates and thinks about. I think there’s a lot to it that going forward in the future would be very different. Cars will have a chance to be in the wind tunnel and do all the things that we do with them.”

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, cautioned Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about a rush to use the package at other tracks immediately.

“You saw the race and as a team member you feel like, wow, there’s something there, but I think we’ve got to be smart about how we roll forward,” he said. “Sometimes that’s going to take more time than I think what our fan base is going to understand, but we’ve got to smart about how we look at this and what we can do with it. I think there’s potential there. If we just implement what we just did, I don’t know if we’re getting all the potential out of it.”

There also was quite a discussion on social media from several in the sport, from spotters and crew chiefs and more, about the racing and what to do next. Here’s what some were saying on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

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