NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: New, 2019 NASCAR Rules Package Sign of Serious Shakeup Ahead

Did You Notice? … Stock car racing threw a grenade into the garage with its redesigned 2019 NASCAR rules package? Between the ROVAL on Sunday (Sept. 30) and a laundry list of changes announced Tuesday, this sport feels like it’s suddenly reinventing itself.

Most importantly, the new package removes the words restrictor plate from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series vocabulary. After February’s Daytona 500, they’ll be thrown in the trash heap in favor of the new rules that will add a tapered spacer into the mix. The spacer, combined with giant air ducts, will reduce horsepower by over 25 percent (to 550 from 750) while cutting the speed needed to ditch the plates.

The 2019 rules also come with a large, eight-inch spoiler, a two-inch overhang on the splitter and adjusted radiator pan. The picture below illustrates the major adjustments.

Graphic for 2019 rules packages

These new rules will be in effect at 17 of the 36 races on the schedule. Five other events — Darlington’s Southern 500, the Atlanta race, both Pocono events and Homestead — will run a higher-speed package without the ducts. The other 14 events, held at either road courses or tracks one mile or less, will run, in essence, this year’s car.

The changes make sense considering where improvement was needed the most. What races have needed the biggest jolt in competition? It’s the Charlotte oval race, not the ROVAL we saw this past Sunday. So while I would have loved to see an adjustment for short tracks, too, as Richmond, in particular, left much to be desired, this change is a step in the right direction.

There’s a bit of a downside in how much it kills speed on the racetrack. But as we saw with the ROVAL, it’s the side-by-side competition and ability to rub fenders which brings fans up to a standing ovation. We need spacers, not physical space between the cars, so they can draft and run bumper to bumper.

As with any change, there will be fans who can’t stomach it and head for the exits. I’ll be honest; if the All-Star Race and the ROVAL made you stomach sick, you’ll hate the 2019 version of NASCAR. But the sport is well aware it needs to do something different. And with schedule changes and the Gen-7 car still at least a year away, throwing a curveball to the 2019 chassis was the best way to make a major adjustment. Do you want the status quo, or do you want a sport willing to throw the kitchen sink at the problem? Fans have asked for the kitchen sink for years. You can’t have it both ways.

The hope is that in adding in some extra horsepower, taking off the restrictor plate will satisfy drivers worried too much that skill was taken out of their hands. But just like with any change in this sport, I think the best teams will find a way to squeeze out extra speed. Over time, that speed will put more ability back behind the wheel and drivers will adjust. They’re also selling themselves short on drafting and strategy, important skills we’ve seen play out in restrictor plate races the past few years.

Fans annoyed by these adjustments should take note of the ratings. The track change to the Charlotte ROVAL paid off; it was the first natural Nielsen ratings increase for NASCAR on television this year. And the hype surrounding the All-Star Race clearly rubbed off on the sport’s executive branch desperate to stem the tide of negative press.

There’s no telling how much next year’s package will change the racing. But it’ll certainly be different and that’s what the sport needed to give itself a chance. Insanity is trying the same thing all over again, expecting the same result and this 2018 package had fans headed for the exits more than ever. An adjustment was needed.

And it seems we’re just on the tip of the iceberg. Between a potential sale, a new president, potential new CEO (if Brian France doesn’t return) and tracks investigating ROVALs, the shakeup is just getting started. Three years from now, expect the sport to look radically different, in terms of ownership, scheduling, chassis and car design.

It’s time.

Did You Notice? … Jimmie Johnson is kicking himself for fighting for Victory Lane? After the race, he admitted he was “worried about the win more than anything else.” Had he played it safe, settling for second, the No. 48 team would still be fighting for a championship.

My question is… why? Why beat yourself up, Jimmie? Sure, there was an opportunity for Johnson to change the narrative in what’s easily been the worst season of his career. We head to Dover this weekend, a place where he owns virtually every track record. A win by Johnson there, after a second place at Charlotte, would place him in the Round of 8 with plenty of momentum.

But let’s stop this train for a second. While Hendrick Motorsports has shown well in the postseason, they have never come close to title contention. The Chevy Camaro is still clearly second rate at the intermediate tracks making up the next rounds of the playoffs.

Even if Johnson somehow snuck through to the Championship 4 by winning at Dover and Martinsville, his chances at Homestead were slim to none. The Big Three of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. would have needed to virtually take each other out for Johnson to sneak past.

So the championship, while nice to fight for, seemed pretty farfetched for Johnson. But winning? What a race driver’s supposed to care about? Now that looked firmly within Johnson’s grasp. He was two turns away from ending a 51-race winless streak, the longest of his career and earning the inaugural trophy on a “new” track. Who could blame him for getting aggressive with Truex? The No. 48 has been so down on speed for so long Johnson may not get another shot in 2018, putting another one of his Hall of Fame-worthy streaks in jeopardy (16 straight years with a win).

In the end, he made a mistake and failing to advance in the playoffs proved to be proper punishment. But you can’t blame a racecar driver for doing what he was born to do. Points racing is a large part of what got NASCAR ratings to start falling apart in the first place.

Did You Notice? … Ford has fought through the first round of the NASCAR playoffs? All seven of its teams made it to the Round of 12, joined by just two Toyotas and three Chevrolets. In particular, it’s Chevy that’s hanging by a thread. Its trio of drivers has just one win, Chase Elliott at Watkins Glen.

In what’s been a renaissance season for the Blue Oval crowd, they’re setting a new bar for themselves. It’s the first year Stewart-Haas Racing has put all four of its cars in the postseason, let alone the Round of 12. Ditto for Team Penske’s three cars (although this year is the first with that big a team since 2010).

A quick look at the history of this format shows Ford’s difficulty in advancing before this year.

2014: 3 cars in the Round of 12

2015: 2

2016: 2

2017: 4

Ford also is in position to win its first manufacturer’s title since 2002. Earning 15 wins through 29 races, it’s 10 points ahead of Toyota with seven races left to go. It hasn’t won a driver’s championship since 2004 (Kurt Busch) but has a 58 percent shot based on the numbers this year along with two top contenders: Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

Keep in mind Ford is also introducing a new car, the Mustang, next season. But you wonder with the success of the Fusion (currently the oldest car on the circuit) whether executives might regret that decision.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….

  • Kyle Larson should be sending a thank you card to Daniel Hemric. If it wasn’t for the rookie making a mistake on the final turn, spinning Jeffrey Earnhardt, Larson doesn’t make the Round of 12. But think of all the races Earnhardt has affected by crashing this past month. At Indy, his late-race tangle with Landon Cassill bunched up the field and arguably stole a win from Denny Hamlin. He hasn’t been the same driver since (spiraling out of the playoffs in three races). Then, at Richmond, it was Earnhardt’s spin in the middle of green flag stops that brought out the race’s only natural caution. That trapped a handful of top-10 quality drivers like Hamlin and Kurt Busch a lap behind. Larson was running seventh in that race and Johnson eighth at the time of the yellow, but Johnson was gaining. In the end, it was Larson who fell back in the final stretch, then passed Johnson in the final four laps of the race, armed with a better long-run car. Who knew the pass Larson made then would be the difference? It just goes to show you … Every. Point. Matters.
  • It’s a shame you don’t hear Matt DiBenedetto’s name come up more often for 2019. He was 13th at Charlotte with the underfunded Go FAS Racing team and left for next season in hopes of a better ride. But it’s unclear whether one will even be available. With Kurt Busch all but guaranteed a spot at Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 car, the No. 41 is the only top-tier ride open and he’s not a serious candidate. Perhaps the No. 95 would work in a pinch if Daniel Suarez doesn’t end up there? Maybe Front Row Motorsports would take him on? DiBenedetto’s got the talent, similar to Landon Cassill, but can’t seem to find the right opportunity.

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TheNASCARJeff

I will wait until next season to make a judgment on the new rules package but I hope NASCAR starts to look at the schedule for 2020 in 2019. Shorten the season and the races. 400 miles is okay but we have to many 1.5 mile tracks.

That being said, I would give any track that is a mile and a half one race weekend in the Cup series and the second can be an Xfinity and or Truck series. This will give the cup series off weekends so the other two series can shine and with NO Cup drivers. The Cup drivers do not belong in lower series.

Finally, dump the New Hampshire Raceway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and return the Xfinity and Truck series to Indianapolis Raceway Park. That was good racing and they should never have left.

Steve

Uh Jeff, didn’t you just say that there are too many 1.5 mile tracks. New Hampshire is a mile track that produced good racing until the playoffs came about and everyone started to play nice. It always sold well too as New England has a loyal Nascar following. By the way, how did that extra race in Vegas work out for you this year? Boring race, stands barely half full. I would take NH over that track any day. I do agree with you about Indy though. IRP should be where they race instead of the big track.

TheNASCARJeff

I agree, the Vegas race was a snorefest, i.5 mile tracks get one cup race, if they want a second date then it is Xfinity and or Trucks.

But IMO New Hampshire should go away

Bill B

I am doubtful that the changes will make things any better but I guess we’ll have to wait and see (remember how much NASCAR told us the COT would improve racing?). The one change that needs to be cemented in to really make me hopeful for the future is the removal of Brian France. Someone that really gives a shit needs to be in charge.

“Even if Johnson somehow snuck through to the Championship 4 by winning at Dover and Martinsville, his chances at Homestead were slim to none. The Big Three of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. would have needed to virtually take each other out for Johnson to sneak past.”
You mean like Logano, Busch and Edwards did in 2016? If you look back at that race Johnson was not in contention and almost went a lap down until a dubious caution. So it can happen. I for one am glad he won’t have the opportunity to pull another horseshoe out of his ass. As for winning, I want to see him win one more time in his career, his final season right before he retires.

I’m not a guy that roots for manufacturers but good for Ford.

It’s a shame that a back-marker like Earnhardt can change the outcome of so many races but that has always been the way races work. Maybe some day NASCAR should consider parking anyone that’s more than 3 laps down during the last 20% of the race.

48 Fan

“As for winning” I hope he wins on Sunday while I am sitting in the stands!

Bill B

I bet you do but how is that different from any other week, fanboy.,

John

Catering to this coveted group with all of its presumed buying power has produced negative results, in part because all the traditional fans find the changes counter to the spirit of intent of the sport. There are winners and there are losers in life….everybody is not a winner. In continuing to ‘level the playing field’ Nascar does a disservice to it current stars, and its heritage. The problem is that the envelope is so tight by rules now that there is no room for tuning…no way for a team to create an advantage. Instead big teams spend thousands that they have and the smaller teams don’t sifting through the fly poop to find the pepper. Provide the opportunity to improve and change performance….don’t try to reinvent IROC. That was only cool for a few years.

mike

stupid rule you do a 360 and then you have to to stop before you proceed, not the intend of rule stop or take a 30 sec penalty for short cut corner jimmy should not have stop let nascar make the call !they all cut kyle b a break before nascar get your sh– together !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bill B

Johnson fan? Sour grapes?

48 Fan

Not all Johnson fans are sour grapes about the finish of that race.

I for one am glad he went for the win! Don’t we all watch races to watch a race? To see our driver win a race? I have never turned off the TV after a race or left the grandstands if my driver didn’t win thinking “well golly gee what a great points day”! Jimmie’s focus on the last lap was on passing Truex for the win. I think the focus of a race should always be on the race not the championship or “as they run now”.

Fix the cars, fix the rules, replace the boss, all good ideas but how about the networks just go back to showing us the race and focusing solely on that?

How is that for sour grapes?

Steve Cosentino

One problem with Jimmie “Going for the win”. Not only did he take himself out of the race but he also took out Martin Truex jr….who was most likely going to win the race. So yes kuddos for trying to win but his “desire” to win changed the final 12.

Eric Larson

– perhaps Johnson’s mistake is just by product of “who he is” but going for #8 should have been priority. Would like to hear from Knaus otro in car radio if there was discussion about how to handle end of race.
– 2019 package: I’m apprehensive but hopeful. I enjoy current package as I feel racing has been good overall. important to have fans but don’t want to see racing get turned into gimmicky things. Important to keep essence of racing (making fast car, being able to drive fast car, pull away from your opponent).
– Tom B: I enjoy reading your fantasy analysis. Ever think about writing more about race strategy? I feel like it is underreported in NASCAR the choices teams make during the race. Keep up good work.

DoninAjax

Seeing as the Mustang and Camaro are “racing” next year, why doesn’t Chrysler come back with the Challenger? Then it would sort of like the Trans-Am series. But then again, the “racing” part woiuldn’t be anywhere close to the same.

David Edwards

Sergio, the late Sergio, wanted no parts of stock car racing. how his successor feels about it is unclear. Remember FCA is about selling Jeeps, Ram trucks and police cars.

Capt Spaulding

Probably didn’t want to take 300 hp out of a Hellcat.

Clint

“The hope is that in adding in some extra horsepower, taking off the restrictor plate will satisfy drivers worried too much that skill was taken out of their hands.”

But they aren’t “adding in some extra horsepower”, they are literally dropping 200HP…

tigeraid

Actually WITH the plates at Talladega and Daytona, they made something like 450hp. So at those particular tracks, they’d be adding horsepower, at least.

Upstate9fan

I’m going to reserve judgment on the 2019 rules until I see them in action. I like that tweaks were made from the “All Star Package” in terms of more horsepower and toned down splitters/spoilers. I’m hopeful the best teams will still rise to the top, but that the opportunity will be there for more drafting/passing on intermediates. Two things also mentioned that were interesting, new manufacturers don’t want in with a 750 hp engine and a Gen-7 car is in the works. I hope the Gen-7 car goes in the direction of less downforce/sideforce and gets rid of the front splitter. It sounds like radical positive changes in terms of the schedule and car could be coming in the near future. I think the Roval proved that the quickest way to move the needle is with new venues that aren’t intermediates.

paltex

Hope the owners have a lot of sponsor money. Nascar has evolved into an expensive destruction derby.
Guess that is what attracts people wanting to see crashes. No thanks. Just another nascar gimmick

DoninAjax

I can see the ads for Talladega now.

“DEMO DERBY at Talladega Super Speedway Sunday afternoon. Come see a million dollars worth of Camaros, Fusions and CAMRYS destroyed before your very eyes. Bring the whole family for an afternoon of fun.”

Binoculars necessary for a better view.

David Edwards

So whats the goal here? Is it to hang onto the remaining millions of fans the sport has? Or, is it to bring new fans into the sport? If its not the latter they are doomed, its only a matter of time.
So what about any of this is there to bring in those new fans? Just curious.

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