KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Is cool and tacky the new hot and slick?
For years, drivers have welcomed tracks with hot pavement from the sun. Hotter asphalt means slicker asphalt. And when the asphalt is hot, drivers like to search for the best racing line to pass each other and go as fast as possible. In turn, many believed that races were more entertaining on tracks that were hot and slick.
Now, as NASCAR has made a huge shift with its 2019 rules and drivers can run laps with fresh tires at intermediate tracks without having to lift off the throttle, hot and slick may be the enemy of finding speed. At the very least, Saturday night’s race at Kansas is a good test of the idea that cooler is now better for racing quality in NASCAR.
“When you get to a night race it will bring the pack closer together,” Joey Logano said. “It used to be the other way around. When we were lifting a lot we wanted the track temperature to be hot and to rubber up a lot so that it would get really wide and we could move around and do all this stuff. Now you want it cooler so that you are more wide open and that is what brings the cars closer.”
NASCAR wants Cup Series cars closer together. It added downforce to the cars and cut horsepower on them while adding air displacement ducts at bigger tracks with the goal of preventing car(s) from getting too far away from one another and fostering more passing.
So far, the cars have been closer together at tracks like Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas. But the racing hasn’t looked dramatically different. And drivers have complained about how turbulent air from cars ahead coupled with the added downforce has made passing more difficult instead of easier.
The dirty air concerns were even voiced after Monday’s race at Dover, where Kyle Busch (again) expressed his displeasure with the direction NASCAR has gone in the Cup Series. Cars were going over 15 MPH faster in the corners at Dover this year than they were in 2018 because of that added downforce.
That’s where the potential track conditions at Kansas come into play. The high in Kansas City is expected to just crack 60 and the sun may not make an appearance all day. The track will be cool when the green flag flies. A year ago, that’s not a recipe for a more entertaining race. Saturday night, it could be the type of race that NASCAR was hoping for when it designed the 2019 rules.
“Night races are the new day races, which sounds really strange to those who don’t know the sport,” Brad Keselowski said. “I’ve thought for a while there that the day races were much better than the night races and I think we’re going to see with these rules, in general, that the night races are going to be better than the day races.”
The 2018 All-Star Race became the basis for the 2019 rules because of previous night race conundrum. The All-Star Race — run at night at Charlotte Motor Speedway — had become a relatively boring affair and NASCAR tried something radical in cutting a ton of horsepower and adding downforce.
It worked. The race was entertaining as the grippy Charlotte pavement allowed drivers to use multiple lanes. And it featured some wrecks too. There haven’t been many wrecks in 2019.
“The more grip the better when we’re going to be running wide open, it’s just going to be closer racing,” Busch said Friday. “I think we saw that years, years ago with IndyCar when they ran Kentucky and Kansas and Chicago and those places where they were just door-to-door three-wide the whole time. They just had way too much grip and not enough sense.”
Polesitter Kevin Harvick predicted a similar race to what happened in March at Texas.
“I think it is going to be very similar to Texas,” Harvick said. “I think you will see some wild restarts and I think you will see guys when they have to check up you will get a swarm of cars that catch you.”
“I think for us the closing rate has been very good when you catch a draft off a car. I don't think it is going to be one big pack. You will see that for seven, eight or 10 laps on a restart like you did at Texas. You have multiple lanes here.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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