Earlier this week, NASCAR announced its 2018 rules package. The changes include tweaks to the regulations involving the splitter, spoiler, radiator/oil cooler, fans, cameras, downforce and more.
Did NASCAR do enough with the rules package changes for the 2018 season?
Can’t Please ‘Em All
No matter what NASCAR does, it’ll be scrutinized to no end, and with the newly announced rules package for the 2018 season, the fans are letting them have it.
I understand the majority of the fanbase wants bigger, wholesale changes to the racecars for next season. I understand they want the splitters gone, less downforce, and more wiggle room, among other things. But maybe these changes aren’t the worst thing that could’ve happened.
Everybody’s friend, Jeff Gluck, posted this tweet that summed up my thoughts on the announced changes.
— Fans complain about constant change in NASCAR.
— NASCAR makes only minor changes to ‘18 package.
— Fans: WHY DIDN’T THEY CHANGE IT MORE?
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) October 3, 2017
PREACH, JEFF. PREACH!
I’m a NASCAR fan, above all else. So I will lump myself into this targeted group that can’t seem to make up their mind about things the sanctioning body does. But it’s so true.
Stage racing, inspection woes, sitting out practices for failing inspection, lug nut infractions, the list goes on and on and on. The NASCAR fanbase shows no mercy toward the sanctioning body when it comes to the change that seems too often nowadays, whether it be good or bad.
I challenge you to look at the rule changes this way: slow and steady wins the race.
NASCAR is not in a good place right now. There’s no two ways about it. I began watching in the early 2000s, when I was only five-years-old and can faintly remember the old school cars that weren’t aerodynamically glued to the race track, the cars that had no splitters, had the drivers wheeling the hell out of it lap after lap after lap.
2017’s NASCAR has virtually none of that. Is that a good thing? Most would say no, including myself.
But the changes that the fanbase, drivers, teams and industry want aren’t going to happen overnight. They’re going to take two, three, five, (hopefully not, but maybe) even 10 years. Like it or not, getting the racing back to what it was “back in the good ‘ole days” isn’t going to occur in 2018.
Sure, NASCAR could take the splitters off the cars, reduce downforce by a few hundred pounds, get rid of the side skirts and make inspection more lenient for next season. And would the racing improve? Probably so. But would the product on track be more compelling? I would argue no.
Gluck also tweeted that tire compounds and track surface has as much, if not more, to do with the racing as the rules package does. And I couldn’t agree more. Look at Atlanta Motor Speedway compared to Charlotte Motor Speedway or the newly repaved Texas Motor Speedway.
An old, worn out surface that has multiple lines and chews up tires for breakfast, lunch and dinner will produce better racing than a one-groove track that has little to no tire falloff 10 out of 10 times. But that’s neither here nor there, and it’s a conversation for a different day.
Somebody would gain an edge somehow. And they will even when/if the product is what it is as close to what it once was down the road. How do you think Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team got to the top of the mountain? Spoiler alert: they worked their butts off.
It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t take one year, one change, one decision. Not two, not three, not even four. It took years from the team of brainstorming, trial and error, hiring the right people, putting them in the right positions to succeed and a perfect mix for them to be where they are.
The same goes for NASCAR and these changes for the 2018 season.
That’s why I think these changes are fine. I’m not overly excited about them, it’s hard to be. Especially when NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development Gene Stefanyshyn says there will be “somewhat” of a change next season (via NASCAR.com).
But processes like this don’t happen overnight. Especially one with the gravity of aiming to improve the premier form of North American motorsport.
I challenge you, NASCAR Nation: sit back, relax, try to enjoy the show without complaining every two laps, and let the people who are smarter than you do their jobs. It just might take a little while. – Davey Segal
Changing Everything But What’s Broke
Yes, NASCAR has made overly extensive changes to its rules the past season, but it has continuously failed to fix the things that are actually broken.
In 2017, a lot of changes were made to the cars to drop downforce. Next year’s rules have hardly any changes to the cars. What that means is that the 2018 rules will fail to address the sport’s problems, just as the 2017 rules did.
A widely known fact, not an opinion, but a fact, is that most fans and drivers hate the splitters on the cars. Dale Earnhardt Jr. hates splitters, Parker Kligerman doesn’t care for them, and I straight up loathe them.
NASCAR addressed splitters in its changes for next year: all teams will now use a common flat splitter instead of the custom-built ones teams currently make on their own. That will eliminate some of the gray area that teams often explore when looking for a competitive edge.
I dislike this change partly because NASCAR crew chiefs are some of the most brilliant minds in the world and I truly believe their innovations should be encouraged instead of labeled as cheating. Removing the splitter all together would give crew chiefs more variety for their set ups.
The common flat splitter is just another thing that will hold up cars in the inspection line. Pretty soon, we’ll have races that start with zero cars on the track because everyone is still trying to pass inspection.
More importantly, I hate this change, or lack thereof, because the cars will still have splitters. Get rid of them!
The cars are currently too aerodynamic. They are so aerodynamically engineered that it makes clean air an overwhelming advantage.
That is why you see guys like Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch break out to gigantic leads and drivers hardly pass each other on the track. In the current state of NASCAR, restarts are the only form of passing. Once the cars exit Turn 2 after a restart, absolutely nothing will happen in a race until the next caution.
Ridding us of splitters would create airflow under the cars and slow them down some. This would give cars in the draft a larger advantage than the leader, who would not break out to a five-second lead.
Imagine a race at Kentucky Speedway where the second place driver hounded the leader for the entire race and the whole contest was filled with great battles; wouldn’t that be exciting? It would definitely be more exciting than watching the cars go single-file like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
IndyCar has an aero-package that allows for this type of racing. Watch those cars race at Auto Club Speedway; it is so exciting.
NASCAR would need more changes than just getting rid of the splitter to get like this, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Having a splitter on a car removes the label of it being a stock car. I don’t have a splitter on my car. Could you imagine how much damage a simple speed bump on the street would do to your car at home if you had a splitter?
Ditching the splitter would a huge step towards making the cars more like the ones that the average fan has now. This would make the sport more relatable and attractive.
From what I heard, NASCAR’s excuse for keeping the splitter is that it keeps cars from going airborne. That is a load of bull. There have been numerous incidents since the addition of the splitter where someone wrecked and went airborne. Aric Almirola injured his back because the car lifted off the ground during his Kansas Speedway wreck and slammed back down.
Had Almirola not had a splitter, he would have hit the wreck at a slower rate of speed. He probably would have still lifted off of the ground, but the wreck would not have been as violent because he would not have hit Danica Patrick as hard.
I do not understand why the NASCAR rule makers love splitters so much, but they need to start listening to the fans before they don’t have any left. – Michael Massie
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.