NASCAR has been reaching over the last few months for ways to improve the quality of racing on its bigger tracks. Two different technical bulletins to teams have updated rules regarding both side skirts and rear sway bars from the rule book issued prior to the 2012 season.
The effect of the changes has been debatable at best with no drastic increases in side-by-side competition or impressive vaults in lead changes. That's not hard to believe, though, because solving aero understeer - a phenomenon in racing that occurs when a trailing car can't get enough air on the front end to help push the front tires in the track as much as the leading car - has stymied racing engineers for decades. The result of "aero push" is a trailing car being at a disadvantage when it comes to passing the leading car even if the trailing car is markedly faster in undisturbed air. It's just plain hard to manufacture more mechanical grip in an era that is so dependant aerodynamics.
Brad Keselowski, quickly taking on a leadership role as a commenter on all things in the sport, might have just the solution: different tire compounds.
"As you look forward to the issue of to make the racing better, you can try to take a step backward and remove aerodynamics. Or we can try to take a step forward that can include new ideas the improve the quality of the racing," Keselowski said after qualifying Saturday at Indianapolis. "One of the easiest is to just look over at I think F1 has right now with their soft and hard (tire) options that create the possibility of coming in at the end of the race, changing compounds and overcoming the aerodynamic deficiences of the cars that run towards the back of the pack."
Indeed, Formula One uses multiple tire compounds currently - four dry and two wet compounds, to be exact. The dry tires range from hard to super soft and offer a sliding scale from grip to durability. The IZOD IndyCar Series also uses a multiple-compound style.
Implementation of Keselowski's idea would be a monumental change for NASCAR, a sport that has raced on just one compound for decades. The biggest, most recent change in rubber available for teams last came in the early 1990s when Goodyear (the current NASCAR tire supplier) competed with Hoosier Tire on track. But even then, teams would select a manufactuer and compete on that specific compound for a race.
"As a sport, we have a decision to make. We can either step backwards and remove aerodynamics from racing - I think we all know that's really impossible to move backwards," Keselowski said. "We'll just keep pushing and we'll find it back as we did with this new car. You're looking at a new car that, when we first went to the COT, made about 1,700 pounds of a downforce. In the evolution of the last three or four years, it's making about 2,200 pounds."
A variation in available tire compounds would certainly be the easiest change for teams to adapt to, and would require less emphasis on fixing NASCAR's aerodynamic problems. Should a team have a soft tire option available late in a race, they could choose to pit while another team opts for track position in a bid to hold on. All of that could bring a strong variation to an entire race, depending on how teams play strategy. That variation would be instant drama for fans at home and in the stands.
It's an idea I could get behind, even if only for a trial period. NASCAR's on-track product does need to improve and allow faster cars to not be so held up by other teams just because of invisible aerodynamic factors.
How about it, NASCAR? With the new car designs in 2013, why not throw another curveball at teams?
I've written a lot from Indy over the past few days, so here's a quick dose of the best and worst from the weekend:
NOT: NASCAR simply did not handle the Elliott Sadler restart situation from Saturday's Nationwide Series race well. It was inconsistent rule calling, and they should've admitted that in post-race. That said, Sadler did technically break NASCAR's restart rules. I'm not certain his championship hopes were ruined by the call as he claimed.
HOT: Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports have to be feeling good. As a team, Hendrick is batting .500 in victories since Johnson got Hendrick's 200th at Darlington in May. Oh, and Jimmie is now a four-time winner at Indianapolis. That's got to feel nice.
NOT: The Nationwide Series needs to race in Indianapolis, but it should've never left the short track at Lucas Oil Raceway.
NEUTRAL: Jeff Gordon has five top-10s in the last six races, with a worst finish of 12th. But that's not good enough, as he'll need at least two wins in the next six races to make the Chase.
NOT: Carl Edwards' luck.
HOT: I hope you're ready for the coming storm in NASCAR that is the Dillon brothers. The youngest, Ty, finished third Saturday in the Nationwide race besting his older brother Austin by two spots. Grandfather Richard Childress has to be more than giddy about his future.
LAST: Just a thought to ponder: when Carl Edwards had his engine trouble in Sunday's race, my first reaction was to ponder the effect it has on his Chase for the Sprint Cup chances. Mind you, Edwards was running in the top-5 of the Brickyard 400 just before those issues. Has NASCAR placed too much emphasis on simply making the Chase at the expense of the prestige of individual races? I'm conflicted, really, but I tend to think they have.
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