Throughout the 2015 season, the words “clean air” have been used to describe what has been a nightmare for NASCAR fans and drivers alike.
For those in it, clean air meant a win was near. But it also meant less chances for drivers to pass for the lead and less opportunities for fans to witness great racing at the front of the pack.
Thanks to the new aero package rolled out at Kentucky, clean air was far less important. Meanwhile, green-flag passing for the lead was at an all-time high in The Bluegrass State.
NASCAR PR Tharp says 2665 green flag passes tonight. 1147 last year. 22 green flag passes for the lead (track record)
— John Morris (@JMorrisTV) July 12, 2015
One driver who benefited the most from the change was Kyle Busch. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver clinched his second win of the year after being able to return to a more traditional style of racing. In particular, his ability to pass drivers with clean air was crucial.
“When I got to Logano, I knew he was going to come up and block my lane and take my air,” Busch said after the race. “But when he did, it wasn’t as bad as it has been with the other aero package where you just stall out and that guy can basically manipulate whatever you’re going to do.
“I could move down, I could turn down and I could get underneath him. Overall, hopefully all the drivers enjoyed it.”
Busch wasn’t the only driver able to contend in new ways with the rules package. Jeff Gordon, who has been in the sport for over two decades, was able to clear out space against Kyle Larson with a physical move. Kurt Busch, a NASCAR champion who has two victories of his own this season, simply lost control coming out of a turn while struggling with the aero package.
It was a site to see for everyone involved, including Motor Racing Network’s Pete Pistone.
Whether it’s because of the aero package or not BY FAR the best Kentucky Cup race tonight
— Pete Pistone (@PPistone) July 12, 2015
NASCAR’s willingness to try out a new package midway through the season might have revived the sport just a week after one of the biggest wrecks of the year. Austin Dillon’s crash at Daytona brought negative attention to the sport, but the new look on the track quickly brought back some positivity.
The best part? We haven’t even seen the full potential of the new rules package. Goodyear is working on a softer tire to supplement the low downforce package for the Sept. 6 race at Darlington.
Without seeing exactly what’s to come, Joey Logano isn’t so sure he can fully evaluate the new rules package.
“I think it’s a little bit too early to judge it considering we don’t have the soft tire yet, but I think it put on a good race,” Logano said. “I’ll have to re-watch to know for sure, but I felt like there was a lot of passing out there. I felt like I could enter behind cars and not get as out of control, so I think that’s good.”
Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski, who led 62 laps and finished sixth, had a similar response. While he believes the package was a positive move for NASCAR, he cautioned that teams will likely catch up if it remains the same.
New package 👍🏻👍🏻 Give teams time to figure it out and it’ll be 👎🏻 When we change it up and add variables, the racing is always great.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) July 12, 2015
So can the new rules package help revive fan interest? Time will tell as the drivers and teams slowly figure out how to manipulate the rules.
The answer for NASCAR might truly be what Keselowski pitched with different packages for each style of track. Along with different setups at each individual track, a tweak or two might also need to be thrown in. If fans see the same style of racing at every short track or intermediate course, what’s the point in watching?
Expect more changes with the softer tire in the final four races with the new package before the Chase begins. If NASCAR can find ways to continue challenging drivers and keep the racing competitive like it was Saturday evening, it should see a growing interest in the sport yet again when the Chase rolls around.
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