FEBRUARY 28, 2015
At this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR debuts a new Sprint Cup Series rules package for intermediate tracks (tracks with lengths from 1-2 miles). Teams have been prepping for these changes throughout the off-season, but what will fans see differently come race day? We broke down the rules changes with the help of Justin Alexander, crew chief of the No. 27 Menards car.
NASCAR has reduced the size of the rear spoiler by two inches, from eight to six, which affects downforce and grip.
“The aero changes take downforce away from the car,” Alexander said. “The less downforce you have, the less grip you’ll have with the car.”
This will force teams to get creative and figure out how to compensate for the change in downforce.
“We have to come up with different shock and spring packages to get more grip out of the car,” he added.
With the reduction of downforce, Goodyear will supply a grippier tire. “The whole object (for Goodyear) is to bring a tire that wears out more, and this will put tires back into the equation. It will make the racing better, and put control back into the driver’s hands.” Said Alexander.
The aero changes will also affect speed, but in a negligible way.
“When you don’t have as much downforce on the car, you’ll have slower corner speeds. Now, when I say ‘slower’, fans won’t notice a difference in speeds while watching on TV or sitting the stands.”
Team owner Richard Childress echoed Alexander’s prediction that the aero changes won’t affect overall speed by much.
“I don’t think we’re really going to lose much speed,” he said. “The cars are going to go almost as fast down the straightaway. The drivers will be able to get on the gas a lot quicker with less horsepower.”
NASCAR has also mandated a reduction in horsepower, from 850 to 725.
Childress and Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 team discussed changes to the engines for 2015:
Something fans won’t see this season are track bar adjustments during pit stops. Drivers will now have the ability to adjust the track bar from inside the car’s cockpit.
“It’ll give the driver another tool in the car to adjust the balance. Paul will have a digital display to show where that track bar height is,” Alexander said.
The Sprint Cup Series will utilize rain tires on road courses for the first time in its history. This is nothing new to NASCAR, with the XFINITY Series having utilized the specialized tires in the past. These tires were most recently used in 2014 at Road America, where Brendan Gaughan navigated the slick track en route to his first career series victory.
Time Will Tell
It will take some time to see how much the new rules package will affect on-track action.
“We work with the rules that are given and we’ll adjust. We tested this package in December at Charlotte (motor speedway) and Paul liked it. There will definitely be some differences, but there isn’t a big leap.”
On Thursday, teams hit the track for the first full test session with the new rules package. RCR performed well in the sessions, with all three placing inside the top-15 on the speed charts at the 1.5-mile speedway.
Gene Stefanyshn, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President, Innovation and Racing Development told NASCAR.com, “Today the amount of data we’re collecting is very limited; the teams are collecting a lot of data. But as we get into our races, we will be collecting, harvesting the data off the race and that’s really where we know what’s going on. In practice, you don’t have the same situation as in a race environment.” Stefanyshn believes they will need about five or six races of data to draw any significant conclusions.
For NASCAR, the end goal is to make cars more competitive in making passes in the turns. While it will take a few races for the changes to play out, some drivers like the changes already.
“The cars are really fun to drive with the new rules package,” said Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27. “They are sliding around and it’s Atlanta, it’s slick and it’s fast.”