By admin | June 29, 2014
By Richard Allen
The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season seemed to start off with such promise. The racing appeared to be getting better as cars actually passed one another and there was entertainment brought on by factors other than fuel mileage stretches and close finishes contrived by late race cautions. As a result, attendance also seemed to be improving at several tracks despite the fact that television ratings have been down across the board for the sport. However, as the season hits its summer stretch, the momentum gained by better racing has apparently been lost.
Although NASCAR officials would like to claim that the reason for improved racing during the early part of the season was due to off season changes made to the championship points system, which essentially guarantees a Chase for the Sprint Cup spot for those drivers who win, the real reason for better racing was more fundamental. During the first few races of the year, Goodyear brought tires that would wear away more than those of the recent past. And that wearing away caused cars to lose grip throughout a fuel run, which in turn lead to more passing.
Unfortunately, that tire-driven effect seems to have ‘worn off’ and the racing has reverted to the follow-the-leader pattern that has been so prevalent in past seasons. Saturday night’s race at the Kentucky Motor Speedway serves as a perfect example of that.
During that race, a grand total of three drivers led the 400-mile event. That’s not a misprint. Team Penske teammates and front row starters Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano along with late race strategist Kyle Busch were the only drivers to see the front over the course of 267 laps of “action”.
I’ve been to 40-lap Late Model races that had three different leaders.
Typically older racing surfaces, like the one at Kentucky, provide for more passing and better racing. However, that was not the case over the course of the entire weekend as the Camping World Truck Series race and the Nationwide Series event played out in much the same way as did the Sprint Cup race.
Even the most devoted NASCAR apologists will have a difficult time putting a positive spin on this past weekend.
I understand that sometimes there is one car, or a few cars, that just have the field covered. But that’s not really the best explanation for what happened in Kentucky.
After the race, fourth place finisher Matt Kenseth offered an excellent summation of modern day NASCAR racing when he was interviewed by a TNT pit reporter.
After being asked what the biggest challenge of the night was, Kenseth replied, ”Passing. As soon as you’d take off on stickers(new tires), you had to do all your passing on restarts. Once you got about five laps on tires and we got spaced out, it’s just so hard to pass.
“There’s so much down force on the cars with such a big spoiler, there’s just so much air on them that once you get in somebody else’s wake it’s just so hard to pass,” the 2003 champion continued. ”It’s a great track, it’s really wide. The cars, at least my car, was really aero-sensitive. I could run guys down, but when you got about 6-7 car lengths away from them your car would stall out and you couldn’t make up much more ground.”
Aero-sensitive has been the problem for years. When NASCAR went to a mandated chassis with parts and pieces supplied only by the sanctioning body itself or by a manufacturer designated by that body, clean air has been king. When all cars are essentially the same, Kenseth’s point of not being able to make up ground on a car within a few car lengths is clearly shown.
Hard tires being supplied by Goodyear has further magnified the problem. Those tires that wore away early in the season overcame the aero issues for a time, but hard tires have returned and brought a lack of competition with them.
The so-called Gen6 car, which offered brand identity, has not solved the aero problem because it is still the same machine as the old Car of Tomorrow under the skin. As long as NASCAR sticks to this current style of car and Goodyear continues to bring hard tires to the track, there will be more races like that in Kentucky.
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