NASCAR con­tin­ues push to­ward lower down­force for 2017

Cecil Whig - - & & - By REID SPENCER

NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

— You didn’t need a test or a com­pli­cated data set to un­der­stand the ef­fects of NASCAR’s trend to­ward lower down­force in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries.

The em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence was right in front of fans and stake­hold­ers alike in last Satur­day’s NASCAR Sprint All- Star Race, and it was vis­i­ble from the start.

From the drop of the green flag, Kevin Har­vick and Kyle Busch raced side- by- side for the lead for four- and- a- half laps, swap­ping the top spot as they bat­tled in close quar­ters. That’s likely the most pro­longed, hotly con­tested start of a race in more than a decade.

The fin­ish ri­valed the start for ex­cite­ment, with Joey Logano track­ing down Kyle Lar­son and pass­ing him for the win with fewer than two laps left.

CON­CORD, N.C.

For the 2016 sea­son, NASCAR in­tro­duced a new com­pe­ti­tion pack­age that fea­tured a re­duc­tion of roughly 900 pounds of down­force from the 2,700- pound base­line from 2015. Through the first third of the sea­son, the 2016 pack­age al­ready has pro­duced some of the most com­pet­i­tive rac­ing in re­cent mem­ory.

For the All- Star Race, the sanc­tion­ing body in­tro­duced sev­eral re­fine­ments, in­clud­ing a re­duc­tion in cool­ing fans and the elim­i­na­tion of rear axle “skew” or off­set. The cool­ing fan re­duc­tion will con­tinue for the rest of the sea­son, as planned.

NASCAR al­ready has tested sev­eral other changes at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional Speed­way, mod­i­fi­ca­tions de­signed to elim­i­nate an­other 500 pounds of down­force and 125 pounds of side­force, re­duc­ing the ef­fects of “dirty air” and al­low­ing the cars to race side- by­side with greater com­fort.

When the se­ries re­turns to Michi­gan for the June 12 race, the Sprint Cup cars will fea­ture a rear spoiler with sig­nif­i­cantly smaller sur­face area, cut to 2.5 inches in height ( a re­duc­tion of one inch) and nar­rowed to 53 inches in width, com­pa­ra­ble to the width of spoil­ers run in re­stric­tor- plate su­per­speed­way races.

The cars also will in­clude a smaller, ta­pered deck lid fin, de­signed to re­duce side­force, a neu­tral rear toe/ skew set­ting and a split­ter re­duced from five to two inches wide on the sides ( with the cen­ter sec­tion re­tain­ing its cur­rent di­men­sions.

With driv­ers ask­ing for more off- throt­tle time dur­ing a typ­i­cal lap at an in­ter­me­di­ate speed­way, the Michi­gan test achieved that goal. Cor­ner en­try speeds were up roughly two miles per hour, with speeds through the corners down 10.5 mph.

“As we took the rule changes and put them in the car, I only got a cou­ple of laps be­cause it started rain­ing, but I was al­ready off throt­tle a lot more,” said Lar­son, who par­tic­i­pated in the Michi­gan test. “I think we were about 10 mph slower in the cen­ter of the cor­ner.

“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. That was just a smaller step in down­force. An­other step will just make it bet­ter, we hope.”

Among all con­stituen­cies within the sport, there is strong con­sen­sus that the di­rec­tion NASCAR is pur­su­ing is worth fol­low­ing to an even greater de­gree.

“There’s a lot of mo­men- tum for con­tin­u­ing in this di­rec­tion,” said Gene Ste­fanyshyn, NASCAR se­nior vice pres­i­dent of in­no­va­tion and rac­ing de­vel­op­ment. “( The driv­ers) have jumped on that band­wagon and want more.”

NASCAR is fol­low­ing a five- step val­i­da­tion plan be­fore a new rules pack­age is adopted for 2017. First was the Michi­gan test, then the non- points All- Star Race. Af­ter the June 12 race at MIS, NASCAR will con­duct an or­ga­ni­za­tional test ( open to one car from each team) at re­cently repaved Ken­tucky Speed­way on June 13 and 14.

The fi­nal step will be the July 9 Cup race at Ken­tucky.

“The teams have asked us to get out the 2017 rules early,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR se­nior vice pres­i­dent of com­pe­ti­tion. “The re­search is de­signed to prove out the con­cept and get the rules pack­age out as early as pos­si­ble.”

It’s fair to say, how­ever, that the mod­i­fi­ca­tions won’t go into ef­fect un­til the fol­low­ing sea­son, as was the case with the de­vel­op­ment of the 2016 pack­age last year.

An ad­di­tional goal is to make the 2017 rules changes as seam­less and cost- ef­fec­tive as pos­si­ble. Ac­cord­ingly, there won’t be ad­di­tional en­gine de­vel­op­ment re­quired to adapt to the changes, and the Sprint Cup cars will main­tain their cur­rent body panel sur­faces.

The real proof, of course, will be in the prod­uct.

“The big­gest con­sid­er­a­tion for us is the qual­ity of the on- track ac­tion,” Ste­fanyshyn said.

Not to worry, says Sprint Cup driver Carl Ed­wards, a long- time pro­po­nent of the move to­ward lower down­force.

“We’re over the hump,” Ed­wards said. “We can race now.”

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