CONCORD, N.C. — Four drivers received their first sampling of the 2019 Monster Energy Series rules package Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. For Aric Almirola, the Goodyear tire test was a double dose of newness.
Almirola soaked in the new aerodynamic setup, joining William Byron, Daniel Hemric and Erik Jones in sorting through the 2019 rules. But as the only Ford driver participating, Almirola also had the first opportunity to shake down the Monster Energy Series’ 2019 Mustang in its first official on-track session.
“I think it’s collective, right?” Almirola said during the lunchtime intermission between tests. “We’ve got a brand-new car that we need to learn information on and find out as much data as we can, but then on top of that we have a brand-new rules package that we also need to learn as much as we can and gain as much information as we can, so that way we can have a head-start in the offseason of a direction we need to head.”
The more pressing matter for Almirola is the 2018 NASCAR Playoff pursuit, which opens the Round of 8 with this Sunday’s First Data 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) at Martinsville Speedway. Almirola said the .526-mile track and the next stage of the 10-race postseason remained a frequent talking point for the No. 10 team during breaks in Tuesday’s test.
But the order of the day was data acquisition and information gathering for 2019 on the 1.5-mile venue. The intermediate-track package was in place with a target 550-horsepower output, aero ducts, and downforce-creating devices in an 8-inch tall spoiler, a front splitter with 2-inch overhang and a wider radiator pan (37 inches wide in the front, tapering to 31 inches at the rear).
Teams focused on single-car runs in the morning session with plans to concentrate on running closer together in a four-car pack by afternoon.
Similar packages have already seen the light of day in NASCAR competition, with a comparable (but lower horsepower) setup for this year’s Monster Energy All-Star Race and a package that used the air ducts at select speedways for the Xfinity Series.
Hemric, moving up to the Cup Series full-time with Richard Childress Racing in 2019, said he hopes that his Xfinity experience with the ducts in place helps him adapt to the new package. But he also said that his initial impression of Tuesday’s test was that competition officials had found a happy medium between the current package and the All-Star rules.
“Honestly from watching the All-Star as a fan, I thought it looked slow and I expected it to feel that way being in it for the first time on the Cup side,” Hemric said. “I was like, ‘Ah, I’m going to run easy wide open.’ I went to go run wide open into Turn 1 and as you drop down in it, you knew you were still going 180 miles an hour, so the speed sensation is there with this package so I think they’ve done a good job of the horsepower and the downforce, balancing that out.”
Jones said that a prime effect of the new rules was an alteration of his racing line, that the increase in downforce allowed him to take a wider arc into the corners. He said that he drew parallels between the All-Star and Xfinity duct packages, but that there was still plenty to learn about the 2019 setup over the course of the day.
“I think this package is a little bit faster, not a lot,” Jones said. “They had power and we’ve been pretty close to easy wide open all day, but I think once you get in a pack here, I don’t think you’ll be anywhere close to wide open once we get rolling. It’s been good. It’s just a learning process of how much you’ve got to trim it out and how much you’ve got to build these cars into downforce cars and work on handling to be good in the pack.”
Note: The test time for Byron was shortened by engine trouble in his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet. Byron said he ran an estimated 30 laps before he was forced to the garage. The rookie finished 38th in the 40-car field last weekend at Kansas, retiring after 55 laps with engine failure.