By Jared Turner
This weekend, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will compete with a reduced downforce package for the third time this season.
This aerodynamic package – which most notably features a smaller rear spoiler than the one used with the baseline 2016 rules package – will almost certainly be used full time in 2017 if all goes relatively well in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway,
Drivers debuted the reduced downforce aero package back in June when the Sprint Cup Series last raced at MIS. The package was also used at Kentucky Speedway in early July.
Not surprisingly, reviews were mixed after the first Michigan race, where there were 14 lead changes among only eight drivers.
“I don’t have a very good opinion on if you could pass or whatever,” said third-place finisher Kyle Larson. “But you could definitely run up closer to somebody than you could probably in the past. So that’s a plus.
“I mean, there’s always going to be a little bit of changes, I’m sure, NASCAR or whoever can look at to make the cars race a little bit better. I don’t know what that is.”
This year’s baseline aero package, which features considerably less downforce than the package used in 2015, has been widely praised for boosting the overall on-track product by lessening the effect of the dreaded aero push that keeps drivers from being able pass each other.
The package being used this weekend is designed to improve the on-track product even more by taking away even more downforce.
“I love it,” three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart said. “I absolutely love it. The package is good. The aero package is starting to catch up now. The whole equation to this to make it all where everybody wants it to be are tires and aero.
“Up to this point Goodyear has been way ahead of NASCAR. NASCAR is finally catching up.”
But it may be awhile yet before everyone is sold on the reduced downforce aero package. Despite winning the June Michigan race in dominant fashion, Joey Logano walked away less than enthusiastic about the racing itself.
“It was not good in traffic and not really good by myself either,” the Team Penske driver said. “The cars didn’t have much grip, and there was a lot of sliding around. Catching the traffic at the right time and knowing which lanes work best for you and understanding the cars that you are racing. We had plenty of opportunity to see what others cars were good on restarts, and you kind of keep that mental notebook as you go.”
Brad Keselowski, Logano’s Team Penske teammate, likewise believes the verdict is still out on whether this weekend’s aero package is the way to go for 2017 and potentially beyond.
“I am not sure the new package was everything we wanted it to be, but it is a step in the right direction as far as putting the drivers in control of the racing but not in reducing the aero stuff we wanted,” said Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion. “I guess we have to think about it a little.”
So what does the Michigan aero package need to accomplish its intended goals?
“I think it is important to remember that these race cars have three dimensions to them,” Keselowski said. “They have downforce, sideforce and drag, and this is only a downforce reduction. It is a big chunk, but I think we probably should think about the sideforce now a little bit because that hasn’t been tuned down at all. A lot of smart people will go back to the board and try to learn. I think it is an improvement, but not the step we were looking for.”