CHARLOTTE — The 2016 NASCAR season has seen a reinvigorated level of competition throughout the races and, most notably, at the end of nearly every event. That excitement has been a byproduct of a lower downforce package.
So how is NASCAR planning to ratchet up the action even more? Lowering the downforce yet again.
During races at Michigan and Kentucky in June and July, respectively, NASCAR will trot out the new rules. Expected to make passing easier and handling exponentially harder, the aero package will feature the following setup:
- Reduced spoiler at 2.5 inches high and 53 inches wide. The current spoiler is 3.5 inches high. The width is the same as the width of a spoiler for superspeedway events.
- Tapered deck lid fin.
- Neutral rear toe/skew setting.
- 2-inch wide splitter with current center section length.
According to Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development, the new set of rules will reduce cars to about 1,500 pounds of downforce. After the switch last season, teams found ways to increase the downforce from 1,800 to 2,100 pounds.
The hope from NASCAR is that taking more downforce off will keep teams at bay for seasons to come. Kyle Larson, who got to run the upcoming package at Michigan earlier this year, shared his thoughts with the media about the new rules.
“There was a lot more off-throttle time with the even lower downforce,” Larson said. “So, I think that’s always a plus when you can lift sooner. With the current package, there is off wide-open throttle time, but you’re not ever all the way off the throttle. With the low downforce, I was having to lift all the way off the throttle and if you want to call it ‘coast’ into the corner at both ends, which I thought was really good.”
If any competitor has clearly benefited from the low-downforce package this year, it’s been Larson. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has come close to capturing his first points win over the last several weeks, including a Sprint Showdown victory and a narrow defeat by Joey Logano in the Sprint All-Star Race.
NASCAR sampled the current low-downforce package at Kentucky last year, but ran a high-drag package at Michigan. Let’s just say the latter didn’t draw rave reviews. Larson noted racing fans won’t have to worry about that same humdrum action this summer.
“It will be a lot better than the high drag racing we had,” Larson explained. “… I expect the racing to be really good. I think with you lifting the groove will move up some. It’s just going to, hopefully, be really exciting racing. I think you can see every race track we have been to this year has been much better racing.”
Carl Edwards mirrored Larson’s thoughts on the subject of reducing downforce. After winning two races already this season, Edwards said “There are absolutely no negatives about it. We’re going to have better races.”
From the outset, the move looks like NASCAR making more tweaks that simply aren’t necessary. However, to keep the racing as enthralling as it’s been this season, the sport is simply attempting to get out ahead of teams making their own moves to gain more speed.
This package should keep passing at an all-time high and benefit smaller teams who don’t have hundreds of employees focusing on gaining an advantage. For younger drivers like Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott and Larson, this is yet another move to keep all three competitive despite not being a veteran driver on the track.
Keep the competition close, and results will follow. We’ve seen it this year, and should continue to see it moving forward with NASCAR’s newest set of rules.