This week, NASCAR issued new rules (or, if you prefer, "clarifications") regarding bushings in the rear suspension that gave drivers the ability to manipulate the rear handling of their cars. Both the reasons behind, and the potential effects of, the rule change were a topic of conversation at Richmond International Raceway on Friday.
In easy terms: NASCAR has decreed that the tiny sleeves that allow the car's rear arms to move may now be no longer than a quarter of an inch. Hendrick teams had been making the sleeves of softer material, giving the driver more control over the car's movements. Brad Keselowski, among others, has criticized the engineering maneuver, but until now, it was perfectly within bounds.
The timing is curious (and, for Hendrick conspiracy theorists, problematic): making a change in the first race of the Chase is a recipe for controversy, at the least. Still, there's doubt as to how much of an effect the change will have.
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"It probably won't change a lot," Matt Kenseth said on Friday. "Everybody was kind of on to what they were doing anyway. For me, it might make it better because it didn't seem like we had it quite nailed down like the other guys did."
Jimmie Johnson, as expected, had a slightly different view: "I think NASCAR made it known that they are just putting parameters on what is going on," he said. "There is no change ... The field migrates quickly in certain directions, and I think NASCAR is just making sure that people understand the parameters so they can regulate in post-race and find ways to make sure no one is going above and beyond."
And Jeff Gordon? The man whose interests depend on getting that extra edge noted that he is, indeed, trying to get that extra edge: "When you watch on TV and see the cars skewed, running sideways down the straightaways, it's pretty obvious what everybody is trying to do," he said. "Everybody is trying to get as much downforce in the car as possible. And every time NASCAR comes up with a rule, you go, OK, how do we get around the rule? I feel like that's what everybody is doing, and our guys have done a lot of work in that area to gain that advantage and I give them all the credit in the world."
However, Gordon was quick to point out that this wasn't anything done without NASCAR's knowledge: "When we presented it to NASCAR for approval, they didn't act like it was something they had never seen before," he said. "I don't even think we were the first ones to do it."
And, naturally, where one team goes, others will follow. "We all started working on it once we saw what they were doing," said Kyle Busch. "It's follow the leader. You really don't have many secrets here in the garage area very long. We started going to work on those kind of things, too, and trying to manipulate some of the same things they were doing."
The effects of the change will depend on exactly how reliant each team was on the bushings' benefits. Like everything else in the Chase, it'll be a wait-and-see situation.
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