One of the best possible racing packages for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars in 2015 isn't a surprising combination of factors at all.
As ideas have been tossed around to help improve the ability of drivers to pass and hinder the ability of a lead car to be unpassable up front, two ideas have been tossed out more than any others. One is softer tires. With the speeds and force that Cup cars currently generate, Goodyear has struggled to find a tire that wears quickly that's also durable.
The other is low downforce. The aerodynamic sensitivity of Cup cars is what makes it so hard to pass the leader. A car without turbulent air in front of it is automatically faster than a car that has turbulent air around it. It's like the NASCAR version of a Mario Kart magic mushroom.
On Monday, NASCAR held a test to try various possibilities for rule changes in 2015. And of all the things that NASCAR had the teams in attendance try, guess what two factors produced the best racing? Yup, it was the low downforce and softer tires.
I thought that test at Michigan was really interesting," Matt Kenseth said. "They went through all the high downforce stuff and less power and kind of the direction they went this year, but even greater and it was honestly really bad. It was really singled out – you couldn't pass, you could draft a little more on the straightaway, but you're almost wide open in the corners. It was really bad and at the very end they took all the downforce off and gave us all our power back and did all that and it was pretty much unanimous from the drivers and if you watch the film with just two of us, it was awesome."
"It was like going back 15 years in time or something like that and know you could actually pass in the corners instead of worrying about drafting in the straightaway. You could get one guy on the bottom and one guy on the top, the air wasn't so turbulent that you couldn't get outside of people so the track got really wide. It was like the track aged 10 years and it was awesome. Everybody got out with a smile on their face."
Kenseth's comments bring some optimism to your mind, don't they? Many clamor about how the racing was infinitely greater in the past, and while that may not be exactly true, we can all agree that there's room for improvement when it comes to Cup drivers' ability to pass. And many people – see: Edwards, Carl – have clamored for this combination for a while. If there's some tangible results to look at, the possibility needs to be seriously considered more than ever.
Jeff Burton was pragmatic about the possibility of any changes. But he was optimistic if Goodyear can find a tire with more grip.
“Every time we’ve taken downforce away and not put on a better tire on the car, it’s always been worse,” Burton told Popular Speed. “The one thing we’ve never done is take downforce away and added extra grip with the tires and that’s what the drivers have been clamoring for.
“If Goodyear can build a softer tire — one that will last and stay soft, then it is a viable option. My question is that I don’t know if they can. I feel like that’s something we need to look at if we can. If they don’t feel like they can, then that’s not going to work. If you’re going to take downforce away you have to find a way to get grip in them because history has told that story.”
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