ThatsRacin

Drivers expect low drag to enliven Darlington

“I liked it (in Kentucky),” Jeff Gordon said after practicing Friday at Darlington Raceway for Sunday night’s Southern 500 (qualifying is at 1:45 p.m. Saturday). “And so far I’m enjoying it here.”
“I liked it (in Kentucky),” Jeff Gordon said after practicing Friday at Darlington Raceway for Sunday night’s Southern 500 (qualifying is at 1:45 p.m. Saturday). “And so far I’m enjoying it here.” Getty Images

More compelling racing remains the goal as NASCAR gives a low-drag aerodynamic package another try for Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

There’s a realistic shot at that happening: The low-drag package worked well when it was experimented with at Kentucky Speedway’s Sprint Cup race in July.

“I liked it (in Kentucky),” Jeff Gordon said after practicing Friday for Sunday night’s race (qualifying is at 1:45 p.m. Saturday). “And so far I’m enjoying it here.”

The low-drag force means cars won’t adhere to the surface as easily, making for more slipping, sliding and passing. On Kentucky’s 1.5-mile oval, there were a track-record 22 lead changes and 1,518 more green flag passes than during the 2014 race.

The downforce package features a shorter spoiler (31/2 inches), a splitter with a quarter-inch leading edge and a 25-inch splitter extension panel. Goodyear is also supplying tires that, drivers hope, will “fall off” to lower speeds more quickly than usual.

So will the package produce the same kind of racing at Darlington, an egg-shaped, 1.37-mile track?

“Kentucky and (Darlington) are just such different race tracks, so I don’t know that you can really compare,” said Matt Kenseth. “They brought a different tire, way different surface, way different racing style here than there was at Kentucky. Obviously, the groove is much narrower, so I think that’s really, really difficult to compare.”

The Kentucky race was a good one for Kenseth and his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates: Kyle Busch was the winner, with Denny Hamlin finishing third, Carl Edwards fourth and Kenseth fifth.

“I had more fun in that race at Kentucky than I’ve had at any mile and a half (track) in years,” Edwards said recently at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “To me, if some is good then more is better. We should continue down that path, in my opinion."

NASCAR has also experimented with high-drag packages at Indianapolis and Michigan. Neither the high-drag nor the low-drag packages will be used during the Chase, which begins in two weeks in Chicago. NASCAR made that announcement recently at Michigan International Speedway, where the high-drag package was making its second appearance of the season. The results in Michigan, as they were earlier when the high-draft package was used at Indianapolis, were less than successful, not producing much in the way of passing or any kind of compelling racing.

The new tire might also produce some benefits to the racing.

“They’ve been wanting a tire that makes a lot more grip and less downforce,” former driver and television commentator Jeff Burton said during a conference call with reporters this week. “In principle, it’s a great idea. Everybody has told me this tire is almost a second faster than the tire that was originally slated (for Darlington).

“Then you take the downforce off and speeds will be similar. Drivers have been wanting fall-off – they want the car to take off fast and then slow down as the run goes on to give an opportunity on a long run to catch somebody and pass them and not be hampered by the downforce coming from the other car.”

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