Monday, September 07, 2015

COMMENTARY: NASCAR’s Aero Future On Display At Darlington

If driver feedback counts for anything – and it does – Sunday night’s Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway offered a clear look ahead at NASCAR’s aerodynamic future. 

A new, low-downforce aerodynamic package – with an accompanying softer tire -- received rave reviews for the second time in as many outings, with competitive racing, multiple lead changes and an exciting, multi-car battle that had fans on their feet throughout the final 50 laps. As in the package’s first outing at Kentucky Speedway in July, drivers had their hands full at times, wrestling their cars through Darlington’s challenging turns while teetering on the edge of control. And perhaps surprisingly, they emerged from their Darlington-striped mounts raving about the experience.

“This is as good as it gets,” said winner Carl Edwards, a longtime proponent of the low-drag package. “This is what it’s about. We’re sliding cars (and) tires are falling off.

“It was an awesome day.”

Jamie McMurray echoed those thoughts after finishing 14th, saying he experienced less of the dreaded “aero push” than in past events.
“When you were behind someone, it wasn’t as noticeable as what we had (before),” he said. “They race better when you are behind someone (and) you are not as dependent on having air on the car. I am a big fan of this package. We had a little bit more front downforce with some pans that they allowed us to have, (and) I think that was better. At Kentucky, everybody struggled with getting the front to turn. Here, that didn’t seem to be as big of an issue.
“The leader always has a little bit of an advantage,” he said, “but it seems like he has less of an advantage with the smaller spoiler and this rules package.”
Sixth-place finisher Kurt Busch was also complimentary. While admitting that there is still an advantage to racing in clean air, he called NASCAR’s low-drag package “a nice balance of slip-sliding around and being on the edge.”  

Darlington is admittedly a track like no other. Its unique layout and abrasive surface maximize tire fall-off, tilting the ratio of “man versus machine” decidedly in favor of “man.” There was a common denominator among the Top-5 finishers Sunday night; Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick. They’re all wheelmen; ready, willing and able to get “up on the wheel” and manhandle an ill-handling race car to the front of the pack, by whatever means necessary.  

NASCAR gave them an opportunity to do exactly that Sunday night, and Goodyear contributed a softer tire that fell-off dramatically in just a few short laps. The end result was some of the best racing we’ve seen this season, and a happy garage area at evening’s end.  

Edwards prodded NASCAR to stick with its new rules package for the remainder of the season, saying, “If there’s any chance we can run this in the Chase, I hope we can do it.”
It is unlikely that NASCAR will grant Edwards’ wish at this late date, but multiple sources say that after Sunday’s race, the sanctioning body will almost certainly mandate the low-drag aerodynamic package in a majority of its non-restrictor plate races next season.
McMurray lobbied hard for that change Sunday, saying, “The general consensus among all of the drivers is that we would like to start with this and possibly try to even get more downforce off the cars.”
NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell admitted Sunday night that the sanctioning body was pleased with the outing, but will “spend the proper time with the industry -- the race teams and drivers – before making a final decision on how to proceed.  

“We’ll have a decision toward the end of the month," he said. 


  1. Anonymous2:20 PM

    I hope NASCAR will listen to the drivers. Darlington was the best race this year and I have watched all of them.

  2. Anonymous2:46 PM

    A great night for the drivers, the fans and the sport. The only question I have is why did it take NASCAR so long to figure this out.

    Now about restrictor plate racing...

  3. Anonymous7:57 AM

    Best Southern 500 in years. If France came up with this idea, God bless him. If you keep the teams happy you will have a show that showcases the talent that is what made NASCAR. Nobody wants to watch sailboat racing at 200 MPH (where you steal the others AIR). If you can't pass, that's not racing, its watching and I can watch anything that's thrilling, its does not have to be stock car watching. I am a race fan, loyal race fan. And I want to see racing. Thank you

  4. This was nothing close to the best racing of the year. This was some of the weakest. That Darlington is too narrow to race on has long been true and long been part of the issue, but the larger issue remains that lack of downforce meant the leader was immune all night; Harvick tried to get Keselowski a couple of times and couldn't do it. I didn't see any less aeropush here than in previous Darlington races. The cars didn't race. Contrast this with the high downforce package at Indy and Michigan - the cars could manifestly close on the leader and never once pushed - they were loose behind other cars; the issues there were they handle so poorly no one could race, an eminently fixable issue as opposed to the problem long shown with low-downforce packages.

    To Anonymous - why did it take NASCAR so long to figure this out? Because this rule package didn't work at Darlington and doesn't work overall.

    1. What race were you watchin?

    2. Cms22 - the one that ran this past Sunday. You actually think there was good racing in this Southern 500? No, there wasn't - good racing means Harvick passes Keselowski, Keselowski repasses, and so forth - it does not mean chasing the leader and being unable to pass.

  5. ron in mississippi2:56 PM

    Agreed! Probably the best race I've ever attended!
    Agree with you Dave. Also agree with your feelings about improving technology to bring the younger folks back. I was sitting in Pearson B sunday night and could not even open the NASCAR app to check driver lineups! Have a Samsung note 4 so thats not the problem. Using Verizon now but have had AAT in the past with same results on race day. This from a 66 year old.

  6. Mike Popham3:59 PM

    Fantastic racing. Only complaint is I was hoping to see Pettys (or clone) Hemi Superbird hot lapping !! Now THAT would've been frikkin awesome !!

  7. Anonymous2:17 PM

    I didn't get a chance to watch the race but there sure were very little highlights shown on the post race shows.