On Oct. 2, 2018, NASCAR announced the aerodynamic package for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. It was a package that, in the words of NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell, was “a focus on getting back to a true focus on the drivers and what NASCAR is all about — close side-by-side racing and trying to deliver more of that.”
From the tire test at Auto Club Speedway in January and the organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in February, the package looked promising.
After five races and four with the new package (including two with the full package), it’s been more of the same.
The racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway was what I expect from Atlanta. The racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was what I expect from Las Vegas. So on for ISM Raceway and Fontana.
The restarts and the first five laps after are dicier this season. The leader, however, still has an exponential advantage in clean air. While it’s much easier to draft with someone, tire wear makes it a Herculean task to pass — especially five or more laps after a restart — thanks to the increase in dirty air.
Furthermore, the increased downforce and lower speeds have led to more on-throttle time, which glues the cars to the ground. We’ve seen cleaner races (in terms of the amount of cautions for wrecks). Other than Atlanta, where the tire management played a greater role, it’s easier for the race leader to pull away from the field. And even at Atlanta, there were times when the leader just drove a few seconds ahead of second.
It’s just been more of the same.
It’s hard not to feel let down, given the hype built up around this package over the offseason, particularly by NASCAR.
“We want cars close together, we don’t want people falling off and going laps down, we don’t want people checking out,” NASCAR Vice President of Development and Innovation John Probst said during the Las Vegas test.
“I think the rule package was put in place because we want to have the most competitive racing we can,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November. “We believe the 2019 rules package is just exactly that.
These quotes, along with the aforementioned quote from O’Donnell at the top of the article, indicate that the big wigs at NASCAR expected closer, side-by-side, more competitive racing.
This package, so far, has been more of the same.
Maybe I could be wrong in a few weeks or a few months. Maybe by then, NASCAR will have tweaked the package to prevent a lost season. And maybe then, I’ll keep to the promise I made a few months back and personally tell Phelps that I was wrong.
Furthermore, the increase in TV ratings in four of five races this season has quelled my fears — for now — that the sport is in trouble if this package fails.
I’m not ready to say this package is a failure. For now, however, it’s just been more of the same.
That’s my view, for what it’s worth.