NASCAR Cup Teams Venturing Into The Unknown

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 22 2019
Cup teams are trying to figure out NASCAR’s new rules this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

HAMPTON, Ga. – Normally, NASCAR drivers agree on very little, but this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway they concur that with the new Cup rules package they are venturing into unknown territory in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500.

“It will be drastically different than what we have done before,” said Harvick, who experienced day-long steering issues with his Ford on Friday. “We have not raced this package. You don’t have any idea of what you need because we haven’t had all the cars on the track. I would hate to speculate on what direction it is going and what we are going to do because we don’t know.

“Once the engineers all wrap their arms around what they need it becomes more of a system and you start to build the notebook and things that go with that to start to evolve the program and what you do and what you work on. Right now we don’t have anything to evolve because we don’t have any answers. We have more questions with zero answers actually.”

Under the new rules, a tapered spacer of either 1.17 inches or 0.922 inches and aerodynamic ducts will be used in 17 of the 36 races. Five other races will be run with the smaller spacer, but without the ducts. The aerodynamic elements for this year are a taller 8-inch-by-61-inch rear spoiler, a larger front splitter with a 2-inch overhang, and a wider radiator pan that measures 37 inches wide in the front, tapering to 31 inches at the rear.

The objective with the rules package is to reduce horsepower and create more side-by-side racing.

Aric Almirola’s pole winning speed Friday of 181.473 mph, 30.550 seconds, was more than three miles per hour slower than Kyle Busch’s No. 1 qualifying speed last year of 184.652 mph. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., also in a Ford, recorded the second quickest lap at 180.428 mph, 30.727 seconds. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin was the fastest Toyota in fourth with a 180.328-mph, 30.744-second, lap. Kyle Larson, in seventh, was the quickest Chevrolet with a 179.842-mph, 30.827-second lap.   

“I think that with this new package, there is going to be a lot of risk versus reward with building speed into your car because then you sacrifice handling,” Almirola said. “It is going to be really hard and a very tall task to trim your car out and have speed and still have it driving good. If you make it handle good, it probably won’t be very fast. That is the challenge that the teams and engineers and drivers are faced with this package; trying to find raw speed without sacrificing handling.”

In previous years, the preferred line on restarts at Atlanta has been the inside groove, but even that may change with the new package.  

“You don’t have as much power to spin the tires,” said Jimmie Johnson, who qualified 11th. “I feel like in a restrictor-plate race who is behind you and the type of push they can give you is going to make a big difference in how things turn out for you down the backstretch. So, I feel like the leader will probably make decisions based on who they think is a good pusher.

“There might be tracks where the shorter distance will prevail. I’m not sure if this is one (1.5 mile); in fact, I would think maybe California and Michigan (both 2 miles) and tracks like that where the shorter distance would probably be better for the lower horsepower. But, from a mindset, at least where I sit now, I’m thinking more like plate racing. It depends on the push (more) than it really does the launch.”

Stenhouse said he was surprised at “how easy it was to hold it wide open at Atlanta.”

“I thought it was going to be a little bit more difficult,” Stenhouse continued. “When we all get out there in a pack, I think it’s going to create a lot more issues than what we had (in) practice. I do think if you can get your car working on the bottom it is definitely going to still be the fast way around.”

Perhaps Almirola summed up the situation best with his parting comment in the track’s media center after he won the pole: “It’s going to be exciting Sunday.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 22 2019
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