Y’all remember last week when I wrote all those things about the goodness that is NASCAR’s crop of young drivers?
I love being reaffirmed by what happens on the track the way I was at Michigan, where the triumvirate of Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson finished 1-2-3 in what was the youngest top-three finishing order ever. Those three young men have an average age of 24.7 years.
Their median age could not legally rent a car.
But I’m not here to pat myself on the back for writing 700 words of the obvious.
I’m here to talk about the specifics of the FireKeepers Casino 400 that should make NASCAR fans happy beyond knowing there is a solid generation of young starts to steward the sport’s future.
NASCAR unveiled a new aerodynamic package for the Michigan race that reduced downforce on the Sprint Cup cars by 500 lbs. and the sideforce by 125 lbs. The spoiler was shortened to 2.5 inches, the front splitter underside was reduced by three inches and the rear deck fin was trimmed by 11 inches to achieve this dramatically different aero package. (Those were a lot of numbers, I know. I just look at this way: less “stuff” to slow down the air going around the car and create drag. My uncle is an aerospace engineer. I’m sure he’s overly proud of what I just wrote.)
The result was some pretty good dang racing – Logano kind of stinking up the show notwithstanding. The cars reached speeds in the 215 mph range at the end of the straightaways and, for the first time in forever, drivers had to lift off the gas when getting in the corners of the 2-mile oval.
“I love it. I absolutely love it,” Tony Stewart said post race. “… today we got to drive the cars.
“We have to make a difference in the car, manipulate things,” he added. “That’s what we’ve all been wanting; we’re not running Mach 12 around here in the middle of the corner. I don’t know what everybody else is going to say but I thought it was pretty good. It may not be perfect yet but it is more than definitely going in the right direction. The package is good. The aero package is starting to catch up (to the tires) now. The whole equation to make it where everybody wants it to be are the tires and aero …”
Stewart is referring to the fact that Goodyear has yet to develop the specific rubber compound to match the new aero package. As I write this on Monday, several Sprint Cup teams are in the midst of a test at Kentucky, the only other track that will run the package in 2016.
Logano ended up leading 138 of the race’s 200 laps and, of course, had some good things to say about the package, but was realistic about the changes it meant inside the car.
“No doubt, they are out of control crazy,” Logano said, “and it makes it a lot of fun, but you’ve got to think, if you’re in that pack a little bit, you’re going faster down the straightaways, you’re getting a huge draft when cars are side‑by‑side in front of you, and you have no downforce at all. It’s a recipe for disaster for sure, but I thought the race was pretty good.”
Then Logano used a word that NASCAR fans should be glad to hear: better.
“Without watching it, I know it’s better than the package we ran here last time, so I’m excited about that,” he said.
NASCAR was careful in the praised heaped upon the experimental package, but did acknowledge some of the hoped-for outcomes were achieved.
“One of the biggest things that the drivers are looking for is that off-throttle time and that differential between the mid-corner speed and the entry speed,” Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice-president of competition, said. “That’s one of the very, very positive things from what we saw throughout the course of the whole weekend.”
They stressed the process and the importance of taking it one step at a time. The next hurdle will be tweaking the tires to the aero package and hopefully improving the racing.
The good thing for fans is we don’t have to wait too long to find out. Kentucky is less than a month away.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column during the NASCAR season. He can be reached by email at [email protected]