Has NASCAR Found A Cookie Cutter Buster?

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 20 2018

Cars with big rear spoilers and restrictor plates could be the cars of tomorrow on 1.5-mile tracks. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

With 1.5-mile tracks responsible for 11 of the 36 races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule and nearly half of those in the playoffs, something needed to be done about the boring races that often occur on those tracks. Now, it appears NASCAR has the solution.

The package used in Saturday night’s All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway needs to be tweaked, but the racing that ensued from it shows NASCAR is on the right path. All-Star winner Kevin Harvick believes the event was a preview of the future.

 “I think when you look at NASCAR racing in five years, I think you’ll look back at tonight and say it looks like this and it all started here,” Harvick said.

When the package was announced I was extremely skeptical, primarily because it called for a restrictor plate. I have never liked restrictor plates. I know why they’re used, but I believe they intensify the danger at Daytona and Talladega. I thought a restrictor plate on a 1.5-mile track would only worsen the racing, even though it was coupled with aero ducts, a revised spoiler and a 2014-style splitter. I was wrong.   

In this year’s All-Star race, the package produced what Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith deemed “some of the best racing in many, many years” on a 1.5-mile track. It was an opinion with which many concurred, including me. There was constant jockeying for position and no clear-cut winner until the closing laps in the four-stage event. Originally scheduled for 80 laps, it was extended to 93 due to Stage 3 needing double overtime to conclude.

Naturally, Harvick was the favorite since he’s won three of this year’s four races on 1.5-mile speedways. However, when the race began he certainly didn’t run away with it. He won stages 1 and 3 before emerging the overall victor following a push from fellow Ford driver Joey Logano. That shove shot him past runner-up Daniel Suarez on the race’s final restart. Logano finished third. Kyle Busch, who had his victory hopes dashed in a Stage 3 accident, won Stage 2. Harvick, who finished 10th in Stage 3, described the racing as “different.”

The only thing I can really compare it to once it got all strung out was Daytona of old, before they repaved it, when you could dive to the bottom,” Harvick said after his second All-Star victory. “The middle and top was still going to be faster, coming up on the outside of you.

“I probably made a lot of moves I shouldn’t have made, but you’re trying to make something happen.  I didn’t feel like I was riding in line.  The higher I would move up the race track, the tighter my car would get.  I could dive down to the bottom and make good time on the bottom, but when they would all line up on the top, I wound up losing ground.”

Harvick noted he was strongest on the restarts.

“We were able to push and shove,” Harvick said. “I was able to be aggressive with the car because the first six or eight laps, it would grip, and I could go anywhere I wanted to. As we ran, it kept getting a little bit worse in traffic, but you needed to do everything you could do to get to the front.”

Overall, Harvick led twice for 36 laps, Busch once for 19 and Martin Truex Jr. three times for 17 laps. Leaders in the single digits were Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Smith, and I am sure many others, would be delighted to see the package implemented for the May 27 Coca-Cola 600. However, NASCAR Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said that wouldn’t happen. The goal, he said, was to evaluate how the package performed at Charlotte, then dive into making it the best one possible for 2019.

Harvick agrees with O’Donnell about the steps to be taken before implementation.

I’d like to make sure we don’t jump and say this is the save all, do all package,” Harvick said. “I’d like to see it slowly transformed into points paying races because I think the preparation level will be a little bit different from every team in the garage. I just want to make sure we cycle it in correctly, make sure it fits in well for the teams to be able to afford the things that need to be done to get the cars right.”

Stewart-Haas Racing Competition Director Greg Zipadelli concurred.

“Dumping it on us right now wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” Zipadelli said. “It would be nice to go to another race track.  Everybody has talked about Pocono or Michigan.  I think we’ll see different results at different race tracks with it.”

Harvick believes the package will be used this year on the Xfinity cars at Michigan.

Smith didn’t hesitate to let O’Donnell know his enthusiasm for the package. He began lobbying the NASCAR executive for it to be used for more races as soon as Saturday morning’s practice concluded.

“It’s better to do great things as soon as possible,” Smith said.

“The 4 team (Harvick) has been having a dominating year. So when you think about this All-Star race package and you see that the dominating car of the season came out as the winner, I think that really validates the package. This wasn’t a crap shoot. This race took a lot of skill. It took the best overall team to win, but it was in a really exciting fashion.”

One, however, shouldn’t lose perspective and think the package was solely about Charlotte. It wasn’t, as Smith noted. It was about the entire sport and how to provide better racing for the fans. And for the 1.5-mile tracks, those improvements can’t come fast enough.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 20 2018
One Comment

One Comment »

  • salb says:

    Seems like it’s time for Nascar to heed what Robert Yates told them years ago….smaller engines. Tweak the aero package to get the cars off the ground (and maybe lose the splitters)and throw away the plates.