Elton Sawyer: Competition officials 'trying to get to a better place' with short-track package

Elton Sawyer: Competition officials 'trying to get to a better place' with short-track package

NASCAR’s top competition executive said Tuesday that work is ongoing to produce better short-track racing and that officials were working closely with Goodyear to find a suitable direction with the Cup Series’ tires.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, made the remarks during his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Morning Drive” program and in the aftermath of Sunday’s Cup Series event at Martinsville Speedway.

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Sawyer contrasted Sunday’s Cook Out 400 at Martinsville with the circuit’s most recent event March 17 at Bristol Motor Speedway, where accelerated tire wear produced an intriguing race that placed a premium on strategy and tire management. Tires have been in sharper focus in recent weeks, including the March 31 event at Richmond Raceway, where teams began the race with wet-weather tires that evening after a spike of afternoon showers.

“As far as the product on the race track, I think we can’t lose sight of the fact of what happened at Bristol a couple of weeks ago,” Sawyer told SiriusXM. “I think we’re not naive to this. We, as NASCAR, want our short-track package to be better. We want that racing to be at the level that superspeedways and our intermediate race tracks are today. I promise you, we are working as hard as we can with Goodyear and we need to work harder. That’s the bottom line. We need to work harder to come to a place where, as I said a couple of weeks ago, we need to figure out how to bottle up what we learned at Bristol and also what we learned the first 30 laps at Richmond last week on how that race unfolded.

“The tires, and the way they wear, and the way the drivers had to manage that tire wear and the tire fall-off is really what we’re trying to achieve. When you can go out on any track, especially short tracks, and you can run it 10-tenths, and the equipment will take it and the tire will take it, then you’re taking all the skillset away from the driver. So we are, I promise you and I promise our fans, that we are working daily to continue to try to come up with a tire that will give us the short-track racing that we’re all looking for.”

MORE: Martinsville race results

Competition officials introduced a new aerodynamics package for use at short tracks this season, one that relies on fewer strakes on the rear diffuser. Sawyer mentioned that aero has been an offseason focus and a work in progress with the Next Gen car’s short-track set-up, but that finding an ideal tire combination is now the greater point of emphasis.

“This car is in its third year, so a lot of work has been done on the aero side of the short track. And just to be perfectly honest, that doesn’t move the needle. It really doesn’t,” Sawyer said. “For whatever reason, it could be the speeds in the middle of a corner, there’s a multitude of things that would go into that. But the bottom line is it doesn’t move the needle, and the drivers will tell you that. So there’s no need for us to put a lot of energy toward that type of testing. It really comes down to us and Goodyear and getting to a level we felt like it at Bristol that we were really close.”

When asked about the potential for a bump in horsepower as a suggested solution or a trial balloon at the non-points NASCAR All-Star Race on May 19 at North Wilkesboro Speedway, Sawyer noted that such an increase does not present an easy fix — pointing out the cost involved and the lure for prospective new manufacturers entering the sport.

“I think it’s been well-documented on the engine side of it of why that’s not a lever that we can pull instantly,” Sawyer said. “It’s just not, when you work through all the dynamics. And understand that’s, our fans and some sometimes even our folks within the industry will point to that, that’s just not a lever that is easily pulled, and we have the data right in front of us. I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact of what Bristol look like, and again, what the first 30 laps of Richmond looked like and why it looks the way it did it. We didn’t change the horsepower. The horsepower was exactly the same at those two events than we had this past weekend. So what we have to do is continue to work on the rubber that meets the asphalt.”

A run of intermediate-sized tracks are next up on the Cup Series schedule, starting with Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM) at Texas Motor Speedway. Sawyer said there are no plans to add any resin or traction compound to the 1.5-mile track’s surface to widen the racing grooves.

“We’ve had conversation with Goodyear, with our drivers and obviously with (Senior VP of Operations and Development) Steve Swift and the folks at (Speedway Motorsports) and collectively made a decision to not do any track treatment at Texas,” Sawyer said. “We’ll head out there and give all the teams that information so they can plan accordingly.”