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« The ‘Jimmie Johnson effect’ + TNT = summer lull for NASCAR | Main | Kevin Harvick is justified in getting upset with his pit crew »

Matt Kenseth’s post-race interview explained why Kentucky race lacked passing

By admin | June 29, 2014

 Matt Kenseth explained the state of NASCAR in one short interview.

 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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8 Responses to “Matt Kenseth’s post-race interview explained why Kentucky race lacked passing”

  1. Sue Rarick Says:
    June 29th, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    When Nascar should have reduced down force they went ahead and increased it. The aero sensitive situation is caused entirely by the reduction of pressure on the underside of the cars. So what does Nascar do(?)… they stick the fronts and sides of the cars closer to the track surface.

    People don’t realize that down force numbers are always comparative. Reducing pressure under the cars is the equivalent of increasing the pressure over the top of the car. The problem arises when a following car losses the lower pressure under the car (effectively decreasing overall down force).

    Solution raise the ride height of the cars, eliminate the side skirts and reduce the size of the rear spoiler (maybe even allow 5-10 degrees of adjustment). Speeds will drop because corning speeds will drop dramatically and mechanical grip becomes more important.

    Of course none of this will happen and as todays Indy car race showed they are actually putting on a much better show than Nascar is now.

  2. Jesse Says:
    June 30th, 2014 at 8:32 am

    The big thing about Kentucky is, DID YOU SEE THOSE EMPTY STANDS? Of course in Nascar that’s every race.

  3. Bill H Says:
    June 30th, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Sue Rarick nailed it. Indycar decreased downforce and the racing improved dramatically. Fans loved it and, not surprisingly, so did the drivers. Drivers said that the cars were harder to drive but, being professionals, considered that a feature rather than a bug.

  4. Al Torney Says:
    June 30th, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    The radio media is all agog about them reducing the hp next year. They are convinced this will create better racing. Unless they do what Sue says in conjunction with the reduced hp the racing will remain the same. Of course the drivers will have to learn to drive the cars with less downforce and I can hear them now ” they have to do something I can’t drive the car”. Remove that front splitter and the rear spoiler and you’ll quickly see who the real drivers are. While they’re at it remove that power steering too. Make ‘em work for the millions they’re making.

  5. Russ Says:
    June 30th, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    All of Nascar’s problems boil down to one thing: PARITY.

    Period end of discussion. If everybody is “equal” then how it be other than what it is. As long as thats the goal it will continue to be what it is today.

  6. Marty C Says:
    June 30th, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Actually the side skirts are there to keep air from getting under the car during a spin. It works in conjunction with the roof and cowl flaps to keep the car from flipping over, so you wouldn’t want to eliminate them.

  7. Russ Says:
    July 1st, 2014 at 7:29 am

    The side skirts also work to reduce air pressure beneath the car as it is traveling around the track. Low pressure creates downforce. For that reason in some series it is required that the bottom of the bodywork cannot extend below the frame.
    Remember downforce can be created as easily, and just as importantly below the car as above.

  8. Jerry Zabielski Says:
    July 2nd, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    The innovator in creating low pressure under the car was Jim Hall of Chaparral fame. They called it “ground effects”. Hall first used a fan to suck air from under the car. That was then banned. Then he used side skirts and a “tunnel” to achieve the same thing. He did this with the famous “yellow submarine” at Indy, first with Al Unser Sr. then with Johnny Rutherford, who won in it in 1980. It sucks (pun intended).