Kentucky Preview: A Race To Debut NASCAR Changes

At Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky on June 28, 2014. Tommy Grassmann/CIA
At Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky on June 28, 2014. Tommy Grassmann/CIA

By Jared Turner

When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series convenes for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night, drivers will debut a new, lower-downforce aerodynamic package and different Goodyear tire designed with the hopes of making passing more frequent and improve the overall level of competition at the 1.5- and 2-mile tracks.

While many in the garage believe the package — scheduled, at least so far, to be in effect for just Kentucky — is a move in the right direction, not everyone is in wholehearted agreement.

The major changes for this weekend’s aero package that was announced June 16 during the Sprint Cup Series off-week include a 3.5-inch rear spoiler and a 25-inch-wide splitter extension panel with 1.75 inches less overhang on the splitter, which collectively will reduce aerodynamic downforce. 

“I think it’s a direction that everyone wants to go,” driver Joey Logano said. “I think the only thing probably most everyone’s little bit worried about is if we brought enough tire grip to go with as much aero grip as we’ve taken away. So that’s probably questionable, and it’s a little bit up in the air, but besides that, I think the direction — less drag, less downforce — is kind of what everyone wants. So we’ll see how that works out.”

Four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon is in the same boat as Logano: Cautiously optimistic, but concerned about the tire. NASCAR has scheduled a one-day test at the 1.5-mile Kentucky track for teams to shake down their cars ahead of the race weekend.

“I think that the tire is still not quite soft enough for the amount of downforce that is being taken off,” Gordon said. ” … When the rule change came, the tire has not changed. I think I heard that there may be an option, so we will know when we go and test.”

In addition to the tire concerns, not everyone is fully supportive of changing the rules midseason, because of the extra preparation, money and resources it requires from all teams.

“It’s a lot of work, and my biggest fear is probably that it’s going to be inconclusive,” Cole Pearn, the crew chief for second-place points man Martin Truex Jr. “We only race (at Kentucky) once, it’s typically a track that’s hard to pass on already and we don’t know really what we’re going to learn out of it. Like I said, it’s an awful lot of work for everybody. It will be interesting to see, but I’m afraid it’s going to be inconclusive.”

Driver Austin Dillon, whose Richard Childress Racing organization has a technical alliance with Furniture Row, has little sympathy for the No. 78 team and others.

“There’s always going to be a lot of extra hours put in, no matter what we run,” said Dillon said. “If we have the time and money to spend it, we’re going to do it, and I think this is just NASCAR trying to make the racing better, and I applaud them for that. I’m not really worried about (the extra work), because the 78 team’s probably one of the best teams running right now with the package we’ve got.”

Matt McCall, the crew chief for Jamie McMurray, said the success of the package will ultimately depend in part on the tracks where it might be used.

“I think we’re trying to make some good racing at some of these tracks that it’s just hard to do, because everybody’s able to make their cars pretty comfortable, and once you start running, it’s just a lot of single-file racing,” McCall said. “But I think it’ll make some difference. The tire will fall off some, they’ll be sliding around more and there will potentially be some more grooves to try to drive in.”