“Hard to handle.”
The verdict from the driver’s seat was impossible to ignore following the Crown Royal presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the opinion of virtually anyone clad in nomex, NASCAR’s new high-drag rules package was… well, a drag.
Winner Kyle Busch, who might have been expected to give the new rules at least a half-hearted endorsement, had little good to say. While happy with his ability to draft on the 2.5-mile IMS layout, Busch said the package failed to produce the “pack racing” found at Daytona and Talladega.
“When you got back in traffic… you were horrible,” he said. “It was so hard to handle in traffic. You don’t want to feel like you’re going off into the corner and going to crash every time. You want to have some sort of security. I think there’s something to be learned from today, (but) I’m not sure it’s the right combination.”
Former series champion Matt Kenseth called it “terrible… the worst thing I ever drove on a big track.”
Ninth-place finisher Kyle Larson called it “really bad,’’ with veteran Greg Biffle adding that the low-drag package utilized two weeks ago at Kentucky Speedway was “way, way better.”
Don’t take their word for it, though. The on-track action told a similar tale. While drivers appeared able to run down the leader with more ease than in past seasons, actually passing that leader remained problematic. Kyle Busch’s decisive pass of leader Kevin Harvick with 11 laps remaining came on a restart, and once the field sorted out to single-file, Busch was able to maintain a comfortable margin to the finish.
Granted, Indy has never produced an abundance of lead changes and three-wide racing. Its flat turns and long, fast straightaways have always been better-suited to open wheeled Indy Cars than heavier, boxier NASCAR machinery, and Sunday’s race did nothing to change that dynamic. It wasn't any worse, but it wasn't much better, either.
Sunday’s nine-inch tall rear spoilers created visibility issues, while new rear-bumper extensions prevented hot air from escaping from underneath the cars. Cockpit temperatures topped 140 degrees as drivers struggled to deal with the heat, and Landon Cassill lost more than 10-percent of his 155-pound body weight during Sunday’s race, despite paying special attention to pre-race hydration and drinking a whopping 80 ounces of additional fluids during the event.
In the words of 10th-place finisher Brad Keselowski, “I didn’t see any significant gains.”
NASCAR withheld comment Sunday, preferring to examine the official loop data before delivering a final verdict. In the aftermath of the Kentucky race -- featuring a 132-percent increase in green-flag passes over the previous season -- Indy paled in comparison.
NASCAR intends to utilize its high-drag package once again at Michigan International Speedway in three weeks. In fairness, the MIS oval is significantly different than the Brickyard, and could provide the kind of Talladega-esque pack racing that Chairman Brian France hoped to see this weekend, but did not.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin offered hope of that Sunday, saying, “This package was really intended for a track like Michigan, more than it was here at Indy.”
Drivers and fans can only hope he’s correct.