Racing Will Reach A New Low In Phoenix Today
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
When it comes to racing machinery, there are very few inconsequential changes. Virtually all have the ability to produce or reduce speed – and, hence, finishing positions in races – depending on how teams and drivers deal with the changes.
For that reason, today’s Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway (3:17 p.m. ET scheduled green flag) could be a little more interesting than usual. And the result could be a little less predictable.
The cars taking to the PIR track today will do so for the first time in competitive circumstances using new ride-height specs. Under rules announced during the off season, Cup cars will no longer be subject to a minimum ground clearance at the front splitter.
Because the cars were already within a couple inches of the track surface – at most – under the old rule, the new rules would seem to be inconsequential. In reality, the new specs represent a major change for those who will spend a couple of hours this afternoon trying to make their car go faster than the others.
Not necessarily because of an erased gap between the front of cars and the ground, but because of adjustments made to suspensions designed to alter the gap.
As with most changes, the ride height spec change has produced at ripple effect.
“When you have those changes in the car,” driver Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing said, “it changes all the springs and the way that the engineers go about looking at everything that they do. And so it’s a whole different thought process than it was last year. “
And, Harvick said, that extends to those working on the car.
“As we found out last week in the Unlimited,” he said, “the main thing that you have to pay attention to is being able to get the tires off the car on a pit stop. So, we had to adjust for that during Speedweeks a little bit last week. And so, I know they’ve worked hard on it but things happen a lot more aggressively coming into the pit stall and everything is hot and so you’ve just got to make sure that’s right.”
Because of the new rule and the considerable effect it can have on performance, Cup teams have spent a lot of time at private test sessions, and will continue doing so, as the year goes on.
Said Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing, “It’s affected us enough where we’ve been testing an awful lot this offseason, already, trying to figure things out and trying to come up with what’s going to be best. Is running the old way going to be best? Is running a new way or running something entirely different going to be good? What is it? That’s been the story of what we’ve been working on. We’ve been to Nashville twice. We have had a few other short-track tests, as well, and then I’m sure we’ll have another short-track test before Martinsville. Nashville is going to get a lot of business this year, I have a feeling.”
As with is the case with most changes in racing, it will be the teams and drivers who best dope out the new ways who will be successful on race days.
“I really feel that the no ride height rule has really changed things a lot and has opened up the toolbox in regards to a lot of different things you can do now to get your car where you want it to be,” Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth said. “I’m really curious to see how it all works because somebody’s going to hit it on the head and somebody’s not. I think whenever you make big changes when some people can nail it right off the bat while it make takes others a bit longer, I think that creates more passing and more interesting racing, so I think it’s going to be an interesting weekend.”
Harvick added, “We tested with the no ride height rule at Charlotte when we did the NASCAR test and I just expect the cars to have a little bit more grip and a little bit more speed than what we had before.”
Don’t expect to see “have-not” teams suddenly become “haves” today at PIR. But we might see an interesting shuffling among the traditional “haves”.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org