At first, it appeared NASCAR was ready to put the brakes on planned aerodynamic changes to cars in its Sprint Cup Series for next season.
Now, the timeline is ready to be moved up significantly – as quickly as next month.
According to several drivers and team members, NASCAR is considering utilizing a new aero package that features an even larger reduction in downforce than in the changes implemented this season.
An offseason reduction in downforce and horsepower was supposed to bring a slight reduction in speeds. Instead, corner speeds have increased at most tracks, including this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, as drivers are not required to lift off the throttle as much.
The tentative plan, according to several teams, is to use the new package – which in theory would make the cars more difficult to drive – in the July 11 race at Kentucky Speedway.
The Kentucky plan, officials caution, could be just one of several options NASCAR considers in its efforts to improve the on-track product.
What remains unclear is whether the Kentucky race will serve as just a test or the direction NASCAR plans to go for the remainder of the 2015 season.
“I’m amazed, blown away. I have heard the same thing that there is potential,” said four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon. “You always want to be able to go and test it and understand it.
“I’m fine with what I’m hearing about a reduction in downforce if they can bring a softer tire. To me, that is the whole key in kind of where we are at today.”
Gordon said teams will face many challenges in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 with a harder tire this year and faster corner speeds.
“That is what we want to get away from,” he said. “We want to have a tire that has some good grip, but it gives up each lap. I’m hoping this is the direction that will get us there.”
Carl Edwards, in his 12th season in NASCAR’s top series, has been a vocal proponent of NASCAR reducing the amount of downforce on cars in the Cup series and said he would have no issue with a midseason rules change.
“Are you kidding me?,” he said. “I’d be in favor of anything that makes the cars able to race around each other and to put more of the speed in the drivers’ hands.
“I know NASCAR is all for the same thing. Everybody wants this thing to be the best possible show for the fans, and I don’t think NASCAR is scared to make changes.”
Earlier in the season, NASCAR considered allowing teams to utilize the newer rules package in the Sprint All-Star Race, but those plans were scrapped.
Then in May, NASCAR announced it was considering putting a hold on any additional rules changes for the 2016 season, saying it needed to consult with teams on what was in the best interest of the sport financially.
NASCAR, it seems, has now come full circle, hoping to see how this package fairs during the rigors of an entire race with 43 cars on the track at the same time.
“I have as many questions about it as everybody else,” said last weekend’s race winner, Martin Truex Jr. “What’s it going to be like? Is it going to do what they think and what some of the drivers think it’s going to do?
“If it’s just going to be for one race to see how it goes, yeah, we are going to put some effort into it, but we are not going to throw away a chance to work on our cars for later in the season.”