NASCAR’s first race with the new, low-downforce rules package was a success, at least in the eyes of Saturday’s top finishers.
The package, which will be ran again at Darlington Raceway in August, produced thrilling racing, allowing a track-record 2,665 green-flag passes, doubling the 1,147 passes seen last year. Lead changes under green were also up, rising from 19 to 22.
Perhaps most important, the last lead change came in the closing laps of the race, as Busch worked his way around Logano with 20 laps remaining. The final pass didn’t occur on a restart as has happened often in previous weeks. Instead, the fight for win me down to the two drivers crossing each other over on a wild green-flag run.
Busch, who claimed his second win of 2015, wasn’t sold on the new package at first.
“There was certainly a few times during the night where it was like, oh, this is aggravating, I don’t like this and then there were a couple times where it was, well, this is really good, if you think about it,” said Busch. “So there were some moments there early in the race where I kind of got hung up behind the [No.] 78 and I think the [No.] 11 and the [No.] 22 maybe and I was like man I just can’t, I just can’t get a run on them I can’t get where I need to be to get by these guys. I know I’m faster than them.”
While he struggled early on, Busch acknowledged that the new package helped him make the race-winning pass with 20 laps remaining.
“I think the aero package lended itself to options for us drivers to be able to move around and try different things,” said Busch.
“When I got to Logano there late in the going I knew he was going to come up and block my lane and take my air. But when he did, it wasn’t as bad as it has been with I think the other aero package where you just stall out and that guy can basically manipulate whatever you’re going to do. I could move down, I could turn down and I could get underneath him and we kind of swapped the lead a couple times for a couple laps and then finally I was able to get by him and move on away.”
While he fell short of the win, Logano joined Busch in praising the package.
“I thought the racing was good,” said Logano, who’s second-place result was a career-best at the Sparta, Kentucky track. “I thought we were closer than what we were. The cars were definitely sliding around a lot, especially on restarts. You were definitely — and this track is a bumpy track, and we have a hard tire for what we want to have here.
“But I thought it was an improvement. I felt like we can enter behind each other, and the affect of being behind a car wasn’t as big. So I think that’s good. You’re never going to get rid of it completely, we’re going too fast. But I think directionally it was correct. I have to re-watch the race to know for sure.”
The most vocal fan of the new package was Edwards. The 35-year-old, who scored his third top-10 of the season in Saturday’s 400-mile race, was quick to praise NASCAR for implementing the package.
“I cannot say enough positive things about this direction NASCAR is going with less downforce,” said Edwards.
“I felt like a racecar driver tonight.
“I could actually drive the car, I was steering and sliding, I about wrecked a few times,” Edwards continued. “You know, I felt like I was doing something, not just sitting in line. So I was really excited about the racing. I hope it looked good. I’m not just saying that because we ran well, I made that decision about halfway through the race, regardless I was having a good time.”
Denny Hamlin echoed Edwards’s statements.
“I was a lot better racing that — you’re going to hear both sides of this story. You’re going to hear guys in the front say they like it, guys in the back say they don’t,” said Hamlin.
“But this is — I came from two laps down, I passed a ton of cars throughout the day. And we — there was a pass for the lead inside of 15 laps to go. So can’t really complain a whole lot. 15 or 20 to go, can’t really complain a whole lot about that.”
“This is what racecar driving’s all about.,” Hamlin continued, “And I feel like now it’s back in the driver and crew chief’s hands to get their car handling like it’s supposed to. Not just an arms race of who it build the fastest cars in the shop.”
While the drivers considered the package a success,they agreed that more changed were necessary. All three drivers implied that they’d like to see a new, softer tire. However, their opinions differed when discussing the possibility of removing the driver-controlled track bar.
“I think the driver adjustable track bar really if you get rid of it, it makes guys have to suffer longer until they can get to work on their car and that’s what you want,” said Edwards.
“I think it doesn’t help the racing, but it’s there, I think we’re all handling it fine,” said Logano. There’s also times that you can fix your car to try to pass cars and make passes. So, it can go both ways.
“I agree with Matt [Kenseth] and these guys that typically I mean passing comes from one car having more speed than the other and it up leak when you can put a, stick a band aid on your set up until the pit stop by adjusting your track bar and fixing handling issue, typically that gets everyone running the same speed and when everyone runs the same speed, there’s no passing,” said Hamlin. “So, you have to have disparity in speed, there has to be fast cars and slow cars that’s what makes for passing in racing. So, if everyone runs the same speed, we’re just going to, it’s going to be like a train. So I think that it does band aid us to get to that next stop.”
While the other drivers dodged comment on the new rules package outside of the above material, Edwards had one other thing to say.
“I had more fun racing tonight than I had on a mile-and-a-half in a long long time,” said Edwards. “So to me, that spoiler cannot be small enough.
“It’s stock car racing, and like Denny said, we’re all in this together. NASCAR wants this to be the best product on the planet. And after some of the conversations that we have had, I’m really impressed that NASCAR tried this package. I think it means — it says a lot about their willingness to try different things. Because I don’t really believe this is the package they wanted to try, and so that means the world to me. I think that that’s really cool.”