Some labeled it the most important test in the history of NASCAR. Few could argue against it. With 17 cars on the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway running the new aero package, fans and teams were getting their first opportunity to see what kind of racing we might see in 2019, particularly at 1.5 mile tracks like Texas Motor Speedway.
The effect of this new package is two-fold. On the one hand, the goal of slowing the cars down is to bring the pack together to promote harder, tighter racing. On the other, it’s a vastly different car for the drivers to get used to wheeling.
“This new package, the way it drives, it is as radically different as when we switched to the Car of Tomorrow. That’s how much a dramatic difference it is. It’s a lot to adjust to, lot of differences,” said No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kurt Busch.
He added that it’s a complete shift of priorities for the wheelman.
“It’s wide open all the way around but when you do crack the throttle, you do lose a lot of speed and lose a lot of momentum and you’re trying to keep focused on the handling.”
His brother, 2018 O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 winner Kyle Busch, agreed. He was trying to make the point that his driving skill is removed from the equation in this package, but he admitted it’s not a lack of skill. It’s a shift in skill and focus.
“It’s a lot more of a mental game,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot more skill, it’s going to be a lot more chess match, thinking how you’re going to make moves and how daring you will be in making some of those moves and how hard of a time the guy that you’re trying to pass is going to give you back and suck you around or spin you or whatever it might be.”
Busch’s definition of the mental game is a lot of what NASCAR seems to be going for with the new car package. The definition of a “great race” is more than anything a test of what the eye sees. If the eye sees a tight group of drivers bumping and banging and battling for spots, even if it’s at a slower speed, the sport is banking on the product passing the eye test.
No. 3 Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon sees a lot of three-wide in our future, which has to whet the appetite of any racing fan.
“I think you’ll see a lot of three-wide this year to clear someone,” Dillon said. “If a guy is slower and a guy goes under him and can’t pass him for a lap, then the next guy gets a huge run from that bubble and can create a three-wide pass down low. It’s definitely going to be hard, but you’re going to see passing. It’s going to be more passing than we have in the last couple of years I feel like.”
Proponents of the new package point out the quality of racing fans got in the 2018 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a similar set up. Of course, Kevin Harvick won the most races in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last year, and took the All-Star Race as well.
“We’re trying to make it as competitive as we can from the top to the bottom,” said NASCAR Vice President of Development and Innovation John Probst. “I think the one thing you know that is important out of this, we’re not trying to create some artificial level of competition. I think you’re still going to see the good guys are going to go out and win and compete for wins. That’s kind of the way we wanted it to be. That’s probably the way it should be. We want to have entertainment, but we want to keep the competition in it as well.”
Will the new aero package be a success? That’s still to be seen. But it will be different, and that’s just what NASCAR wants.
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