Drivers were generally a happy bunch when they climbed out of their cars after the 2015 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
The race had been run using an experimental aerodynamic package. With the lower downforce that the setup produced, the cars were trickier to handle and, to the drivers’ way of thinking, just more fun to drive.
“If you go back and watch the race – just watch the interviews and everyone’s demeanor, even guys that weren’t in it for the win, everybody got out and said that was fun,” Carl Edwards said Thursday after practicing for Saturday’s Quaker State 400. “NASCAR did a really great job at responding to that and implementing a lot of that stuff for this season. After some of these races, it’s got a whole different feel for it. It really has been a good time; there have been good races.”
Fast forward one year – during which that low downforce package was made the standard for the Cup circuit for this season – and Kentucky’s recently resurfaced and reconfigured 1.5-mile oval is again the site for another test. This time, there will be even less downforce on the cars. And, again, if the setup plays to similar rave reviews as its forebear did in 2015 (it was also tested later in the season at Darlington, S.C., Raceway), the newest one can be expected to be instituted for the 2017 season.
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I’m all for trying less and less downforce.
“This race a year ago was a huge landmark for our sport that maybe goes a little bit unnoticed,” said Brad Keselowski, who won last week at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. “We had a collaborative effort for a rules package and we saw a significant increase, in my opinion, of the on-track product that we saw. And I think that showcased a lot of hope for our abilities to work together as a sport that has kind of created a wave of momentum that we’re carrying today.”
There’s not much chance that the aero package that will be tested Saturday – it was also used at Michigan in June – won’t get the go-ahead for 2017. The less downforce on a car, the freer it handles, bringing a driver’s skills more into play. That has increased the potential for passing and more exciting competition.
“I’m all for trying less and less downforce,” said Edwards, who has two victories this season with the current package and had the fastest car in Thursday’s practice (186.451 mph). “Any amount or any aero dependency we can take away from the cars, I’m fine trying it at any time. It’s a balance and I’ve talked to (NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer) Steve O’Donnell and those guys a little bit. They’re just balancing it with the teams, making sure everyone is OK with trying these things at different places. You know where I stand on it – I’m always for it.”
The Kentucky track was also the site of a low-downforce experiment in 2015.
Keselowski wouldn’t mind seeing another test later this season, again at Michigan.
“Subject to change after this weekend is over, but my initial thought is I would like to see it back at Michigan with just a few subtle changes that can be ascertained from what we’ve learned over this weekend and the previous Michigan weekend,” he said. “Maybe a small tweak from what we’ve learned and go again at Michigan in the second race. So I would say yes.”
The aero package isn’t the only change for Saturday’s race. Kentucky’s track was resurfaced earlier this year, smoothing the track and eliminating some “weepers” (areas where water seeps through after it rains) and increasing the banking in turns 1 and 2 (the track was also narrowed from 74 to 56 feet entering the first two turns). Drivers said it has made the lower-banked Turn 3 a challenge through which to drive.
3,200 Feet of SAFER barrier added to Kentucky Speedway this season.
“A track has to have character,” said Edwards. “But I also understand it has to be balanced with keeping the surface safe. Sometimes the pavement gets old and it has to be replaced. I think the most important thing to remember is regardless of how tough these repaves are, this track in particular has that difference between Turn 3 and turns 1 and 2. What it lacks in bumps now, it still retains in character – I think that’s a good thing.”
▪ NASCAR fined Xfinity driver Bubba Wallace $15,000 for a Tweet in which he referred to race officials as “muppets” last week at Daytona International Speedway. Wallace was unhappy that the race ended under caution with Aric Almirola the winner. The fine came under NASCAR’s behavorial-penalty section.
▪ Truck series driver John Wes Townley, who was fined for his part in a fight with Spencer Gallagher at Gateway (Ill.) Motorsports Park last week, didn’t compete in Thursday’s race at Kentucky because he was undergoing treatment for a “possible concussion,” according to a statement released by his team.
▪ Qualifying for Saturday’s Cup race is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Friday. The Xfinity Series’ Alsco 300 has an 8:30 p.m. green flag.
▪ Other changes at Kentucky this season: 3,200 feet of SAFER barrier were added, bringing the total to more than 11,300 feet. That is more than double what was in place as recently as 2014. The pit road exit lane and apron were also widened from 14 to 30 feet.