By admin | December 20, 2013
By Richard Allen
NASCAR recently completed what we can only hope was a very important test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The session was designed to provide the sanctioning body with information that could lead to changes in the Gen6 car currently being used in the sport.
Hopefully, something will come from said test that will lead to more passing and less parading on the track.
Here is a list of five things I hope NASCAR gained from last week. Granted, several of these points are interrelated, and to address one would at the same time address the others.
1. How to enable passing of the leader- It is an absolute must that this issue be taken care of. It often seems as if the only time fans see a lead change in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race is during pit stop exchanges and immediately after restarts.
The problem, as someone who has never driven or worked on a race car sees it, is that the cars have become so aero-dependent that when the lead machine cuts through and disturbs the air, those following experience extreme difficulty in getting their cars to handle well enough to make a move on the frontrunner.
Somehow, the aerodynamic advantage of the leader has to be taken away. That “wall of air” that exists between cars has to be diminished to the point that trailing cars can gain on the cars in front of them.
If only Ronald Reagan were here to exclaim, “Mr. France, tear down this wall…of air.”
Hopefully one of the changes that NASCAR put teams through in Charlotte will provide and answer to this most important of problems.
2. How to get tire wear and fuel loads to equalize- To anyone who has watched a NASCAR race in recent times, it seems as if the same scenario plays out on a weekly basis. The race chugs along in a follow-the-leader type pattern until the end draws near and a fuel saving strategy begins to take shape. Then the race devolves into a gasoline stretch run in which the winner turns out to be the driver who is best able to squeeze the best mileage out of a car designed to run all out rather than coast along, sometimes with the engine switched off in the middle of the run.
Again, as someone who has never driven or worked on a race car, the problem I see is that the tires on the cars last too long. No one wants to see tires blowing out or a repeat of the Indianapolis debacle of a few years back, but at the same time, the excessively hard tires being brought to the tracks on a weekly basis by Goodyear are hurting the product.
Without tire wear, there is virtually no drop off in speed throughout each fuel run. As a result, differing driving styles make little difference. It’s those differing styles combined with the wearing of the tires that create more passing late in runs on abrasive tracks such as Darlington and Atlanta.
And again, hard tires turn races into fuel mileage stretches. Drivers and crew chiefs know their tires are not going to wear out, so they plan strategies around conserving fuel rather than racing all out. Predictably, more often than not, fuel becomes an issue during many Sprint Cup races. Having tires that fall off significantly might prevent this as those who pit for new rubber could possibly catch and pass those trying to conserve, thus setting up multiple strategies rather than scenarios in which everybody is doing the same thing.
3. How to “unstick” the front ends of the cars- As I stated earlier, some of these points are very closely related. If point #1 is to be achieved, something is going to have to cause the leader’s car to be the same as all the others. As it is now, when the front car is in clean air, it is virtually impossible to pass because the trailing cars lack the down force to be able to keep pace.
Somehow, that has to change. Unfortunately, not only have I never driven or worked on a car, I am not an engineer either. However, it seems to me that the noses of the cars have to be raised up. Although Fox TV commentators Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds seem to enjoy watching slow motion replays of the front ends right down on the pavement, that is part of the problem.
A car in clean air gets to take full advantage of that down force as the air pushes the front end lower, and thus, plants the nose to the pavement. The trailing cars do not have the same ability because that essential air is too disturbed to provide the same benefit.
Whether it be taking away the bump stops, cutting away some of the front air dams, or something else, the noses of these cars need to come just as ”unstuck” for the leader as they are for everyone else.
4. How to create a drafting effect on 1.5 mile tracks- The most telling tracks in terms of the aerodynamics in modern day racing are the so-called “cookie cutter” 1.5- 2 mile behemoths. These facilities are not big enough to require restrictor plates, but they are fast enough to cause the dreaded “aero-push”. And as stated above, that means the leader has a huge advantage in the turns as his nose is more firmly planted than those of his pursuers.
But not only does the leader have an advantage in the turns, he also has one on the straightaways. The front car hits the straights on these big tracks with more momentum because he got through the last set of turns better. Even if the trailing cars had more horsepower, they couldn’t make gains under those circumstances.
However, if that lead car were to punch a larger hole in the air than the current sleek body designs of the Gen6 call for, that would change. A drafting effect could be created with a bigger hole for the trailing cars to drive through. The result would be more passing on the straightaways.
Although it is a completely different animal, IndyCar achieved something similar to this in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Pulling up on and passing the leader became commonplace in that race. It was almost a disadvantage to be out front. If such can be achieved in that form of racing, surely NASCAR can come up with something similar.
Seemingly, the most obvious fix would be to place a small strip of metal across the roof of each car as has been done in the past. Again, I am not an engineer so it may not be that simple. But something needs to be done to make the cars stand taller against the wind to create that ‘pulling up’ factor on these tracks that need all the help they can get.
5. How to slow the cornering speeds down- Drivers can’t do much racing in the turns when they are holding on for dear life at ridiculous speeds. Modern day Sprint Cup cars, and virtually all race cars in general, are going too fast through the turns. Quite simply, the engineering and technology have out grown the facilities, the tires, and in some cases, the abilities of the drivers.
As stated before, to implement some of the changes above will also cause a change in this area as well. If the noses of the cars are “unstuck”, drivers will have to slow down. If straightaway speeds are dialed down, corner speeds will follow suit.
With the technology and engineering available to today’s teams, these cars are very close on horsepower. As a result, if the racing is to improve, it will have to be done in the turns. Addressing the issues above, would no doubt slow cars down in the turns and allow drivers to go side-by-side and pass rather than just hang on.
It is my hope, and likely the hope of most NASCAR fans, that racing improves in 2014. The five issues I have listed above are critical to creating an environment in which passing is done on the track instead of in the pits.
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