(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

2-Headed Monster: Does NASCAR Need to Use PJ1?

Last Thursday’s (July 23) NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway was generally well-received. It wasn’t an all-time great race, but it was one that many fans felt had some compelling storylines along with more passing and on-track action.

It was the first race in a while without the assistance of PJ1. The traction compound, an unknown combination of substances, is designed to help create better racing and help create multiple grooves at a racetrack. Sometimes though, the compound works so well that it creates a one-grooved racetrack or doesn’t come in at all because it works better when the track temperature is higher.

Fans have long been debating whether or not PJ1 should be used in NASCAR, and in this week’s 2-Headed Monster answers our writers Mark Kristl and Clayton Caldwell debate the use of PJ1 and if it should continue for the future.

No PJ1 Needed!

I have never liked PJ1. It is a pathetic substance meant to enhance the racing when it should not be needed. Given the right changes, NASCAR should never apply PJ1 to race tracks again.

At Kentucky Speedway, PJ1 made the racing worse as it became a one-lane 1.5-mile track. Kentucky Speedway is 72 feet wide on the straightaways and 56 feet wide in turns one and two. Despite its size, drivers stayed in one lane, not displaying their talents or searching for grip on other points of the track. Fans already dislike how many cookie-cutter tracks are on the Cup Series schedule. The addition of PJ1 made the race even more boring.

Two prime examples of what transpires if a driver leaves that lane occurred at Texas Motor Speedway. When both seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and rising talent Christopher Bell veered off the PJ1 groove, their cars made contact with the wall. If neither driver can control their car once it left the PJ1, then that is a problem. PJ1 did not better the racing; it ruined their chances for a good finish.

PJ1 would not be necessary with an upgraded rules package. NASCAR desperately needs to work on that package, and it has delayed the debut of the Gen 7 car until 2022. This is a great opportunity for NASCAR to make changes to enable drivers to wheel their cars in different lanes of the track, not rely on PJ1 for grip. If the package was better, the on-track product would improve, thus negating the need for PJ1.

NASCAR should open the rule book a bit so the cars can be set up more uniquely. If a crew chief can tinker with more aspects of the car, then the driver could wheel it better on the track. Tyler Reddick, for example, loves racing up high. When PJ1 is put on a track, racing up high, not on that lane, becomes increasingly difficult.

Likewise, if a driver likes entering the corners low, it would be advantageous to set up the race car so that driver can dime the car better off the corners. However, if diamonding a car into the corners requires leaving the PJ1 lane, then no crew chief will dare to set the car up to do anything than stay in that lane. Where then is the creativity?

PJ1 is a lazy way of trying to manufacture better racing but it has backfired.  Even when it is applied at Bristol Motor Speedway, it is not the same style of racing as made famous during the Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte bouts.

These drivers, from the Cup Series to the ARCA Menards Series, are supposed to be professionals. It is their job, in consultation with their team, to determine how to gain positions to earn a good finish and ideally contend for the victory.

NASCAR attempted to band-aid the problem of boring racing. PJ1 is not masking the problem; in the case of both Johnson and Bell at Texas, it added salt to the wound.

To better the racing, NASCAR should immediately cease using PJ1. If teams complain, then series officials should respond with tough love by not caving. It may lead to some creativity by teams and drivers alike, which could make racing at those tracks must-see events.

– Mark Kristl

When Done Right, PJ1 Works

There’s no question that PJ1, traction compound, ‘the sticky stuff’ or whatever you want to call it is a new fad in NASCAR, particularly on the tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI) who have not only used it on all of their racetracks recently but have used it liberally. If done correctly, there’s no doubt that the PJ1 application can be a very good thing, something we should see more of in the future.

When it’s used properly, PJ1 has helped create additional grooves at racetracks in the past. NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin feels the same way. If you recall his comments after his 2019 victory at Pocono Raceway, Hamlin praised the PJ1 application and said that the compound gave drivers a second lane to race at what is usually a one lane track.

It was proof that if applied right, PJ1 can work. There’s no doubt some of the races this season have included counterproductive PJ1 application. In an article recently published by Dustin Long of NBC Sports, both Hamlin and Kevin Harvick were critical about where the PJ1 application is applied. Both drivers claimed that SMI went rogue with the PJ1 in recent weeks, with Hamlin suggesting that the Smith family (owners and operators of SMI) doesn’t always listen to driver feedback when applying PJ1 to their racetracks.

Marcus Smith, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of SMI fired back at the drivers and stated that there is a seat on the tire dragon for any driver who is willing to help out with track preparation. Any way you slice it, neither Harvick nor Hamlin complained solely about the use of PJ1 at the racetracks, but focused on how it was used. That’s just more evidence that if done properly, PJ1 can be a benefit to racing.

Another thing to keep in mind is what the future of NASCAR will look like. Take the 2020 season for example. NASCAR has eliminated practice and qualifying entirely. In the past, practice has been used both to help teams set up their racecars but also to rubber in the track. If practice is eliminated or reduced in the future, it might be necessary to create an artificial lane. Applying PJ1 correctly would help create a second groove and improve the product.

There’s no question that the PJ1 application we’ve seen in recent weeks is not what fans want to see in the future. However, if done properly and placed in the right areas to help create a second groove, PJ1 can be very useful. I think there’s a possibility that the substance can evolve to create a more productive combination of chemicals that can improve the quality of the racing even more so than it does now. Trying to artificially create a second groove isn’t ideal, but with how hard the tires are, the way the package is and the lack of practice in the future, I believe PJ1 is here to stay.

– Clayton Caldwell

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Mark joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is an Eagle Scout & a proud University of Dayton alum. He also writes about NASCAR for Beyond the Flag.

Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.

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16 comments

  1. Avatar

    If teams were allowed more leeway in setups and cars were not so aero dependent, PJ1 would not be needed. it is a bandaid, trying to make up for the lack of innovation and uniqueness in Nascar these days. All those cookie cutter tracks have just pointed out dramatically how bland the racing has become as Nascar stifles innovation.

  2. Avatar

    “PJ1 is a lazy way of trying to manufacture better racing…”

    Restrictor Plates/Tapered Spacers are a lazy way to keep speeds under 200.

    Notice a pattern there?

    Although the word “cheap” would work as well as “lazy”.

    • Mark Kristl

      Restrictor plates are a safety measure to keep cars from going 200 mph. PJ1 has absolutely nothing to do with safety. So I disagree about restrictor plates or tapered spacers being regarded as lazy or cheap. Those became necessary.

  3. Avatar

    Clayton, your writing is awful and lazy. You stated “when done correctly” or some variation thereof in all six paragraphs. That’s fluff and filler when you either have nothing to say or don’t know what to say. But don’t worry, that makes you well qualified to write about NASCAR for frontstretch indefinitely, until you and the rest of the rabid SJWs end up running off what few fans are left, that is.

    • Avatar
      Clayton Caldwell

      Thanks for reading.

      Always look forward to your intelligent and insightful comments.

      • Avatar

        Sick burn, bro. Maybe you and some of the other frontstretch writers could try some professionalism once in a while. It’s blindingly obvious that you have nothing but contempt for your readers, but it’s not funny or clever or cute. Your writing is shit and so is your attitude.

  4. Avatar

    PJ1 is a lazy way of trying to manufacture better racing but it has backfired. The aero package has also backfired. Clean air you are fine and no one can catch you. Dirty air, not so much. Both have failed miserably

    End of story. Nothing else needs to be said. Trying to trick up the track to make better racing is a waste of time and racing on the mile an a half cookie cutters is a waste of time.

    NOOSECAR better figure out something fast before they lose what fans they have left. Being WOKE won’t help them a bit. The Millennials and Gen Zers don’t give a damn about racing.

    • Avatar

      When it all boils down to it at the end of the day the thing that dooms NASCAR is demographics
      since yeah there is 20 somthings racing in the series but the fanbase is opposite end of the
      spectrum which would be 40 or older so the older fans cannot relate to the younger drivers.

      • Mark Kristl

        Respectfully, while demographically NASCAR has a predominately older fanbase, there are younger fans. For example, a fair amount of this staff is younger than 40. Some of the changes, such as stage breaks, have been to mimic breaks in other sports which younger fans enjoy watching. Are all those changes perfect? No, but NASCAR is attempting to acquire more fans my age & younger.

  5. Avatar

    Nascar has tried too hard the past 10 or so years to make the cars as close to identical as possible and also ruled the series to death. Whenever you control it to the point of NASCAR determining what springs, shocks, transmission gear ratios, differential gear ratios you can run and trying to make horsepower as close to even, then you start ruining racing.

    Go back to an even lower drag package and allow higher horsepower, also have Goodyear make softer tires that west out quicker. Allow the teams to go back to picking their own differential gear ratios (instead of only allowing teams to select one of two NASCAR allows), allow them to use whatever tranny ratios, springs and shocks just like they did 15-20 yrs ago.

    And my gosh get rid of the freaking common bodies, they all run the same roof/trunk line with the nose being the only thing really different. Go back to when a T-Bird and Monte Carlo or Pontiac etc. looked closer to their distant street cousin, again 20 years ago the did. Nascar is running off what few hardcore fans they have left, and please get rid of drinking PJ1 lol. What a joke. Racing can be very good if nascar let’s teams have some ingenuity and quits trying to control everything.

    • Avatar

      Alan is right. The answer is the 3rd and 4th letters, Stock Car, especially now that oem cars have 500+ hp. Bodies in white, 10″ tires, safety equipment and let ’em go. The tire size will keep the speed down, and if one car isn’t good enough, tough, make em figure it out . Every fix has hurt more then it fixed. Watch vintage races on Youtube, 1975 to about 90 is awesome.

  6. Avatar

    PJ1 is a load of crap, it doesn’t help the racing. Ler the drivers put on their big boy pants & race. The current racing sucks

  7. Avatar

    What’s next? Participation trophies?

  8. Avatar

    I’ve been a NASCAR fan for almost 50 years. The best racing was when NASCAR allowed teams leeway in tolerances to their templates. Nowadays , they use lasers and a computer, which should make it easier to determine if a car is within tolerances. Go back to that kind of racing. Allow a range of tolerances for spoilers, splitters, stagger, bump-stops, etc., get rid of the PJ-1 and let teams play a bigger role in performance.

  9. Avatar
    Bernadine E Barrett

    If it takes special skills to apply PJ1, why use it. Not every track will have the expertise to properly apply it. Let the drivers race without artificial track applications.