‘The Clash’ showcases NASCAR’s new rules, and one questionable call

By John Haverlin

February 11, 2018

The 2018 NASCAR Cup Series unofficially started with the running of the exhibition Advance Auto Parts Clash on Sunday, and some new adjustments to the competition made their on-track debuts.

NASCAR no longer requires a four-inch minimum ride height for the cars. The front splitters can be as low to the ground as possible, which in effect, meant the space between the body and the track was virtually negligible.

The rear bumpers were so low that even with the spoilers being a half-inch taller than last year, they were still about two inches closer to the ground than before.

The aerodynamic difference was pretty clear — cars were a handful to drive. Early in the race, Kyle Larson nearly spun out entering Turn 1 because his vehicle felt too loose. His Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray spun out of Turn 4 due to the same issue, as well very slight contact with Kurt Busch.

But throughout the event, there was side-by-side bumping without too much wrecking.

Also, whenever a second-place car got a run on the leader, he was usually able to make the pass. This is a good thing.

In recent years, the air bubble created between the leader and second typically caused any run by the second-place car to stall out. But not with this aero setup. Let’s hope it stays that way next Sunday. Overall, the racing was edgy and entertaining.

Today’s race was the first time we saw five crewmen over the wall instead of six. Pit stops took longer and even looked a little disorganized. NASCAR on FOX interviewed Denny Hamlin’s fuelman, Caleb Hurd, who said the first pit stop was “very awkward.”

I’d have to agree. The stops weren’t aesthetically pleasing, but maybe that’s just because it’s going to take some adjusting time to watch the new choreography. Also, NASCAR standardized the airguns which secure lug nuts. The Italian-made Paoli guns used by the crews are all the same now. Teams can't engineer guns that tighten and loosen lug nuts faster than other organizations anymore, so it should level the competition within the pit box.

Since this was a dress rehearsal for the Daytona 500, teams will probably go to tape and evaluate what they did right and what can be improved in the pit stall. Maybe stops will look a little more rhythmic come next Sunday.

On Lap 43, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was forced to make a pass-through penalty on pit road. NASCAR deemed that he gained track position when he went below the double yellow line on the backstretch.

However, Kyle Busch blocked the Roush Fenway Racing driver as he came up along his side. The argument could be made that if Stenhouse didn’t dive below the double yellow, both drivers would have wrecked.

Stenhouse’s team asked NASCAR to review the penalty, but it upheld its decision and Stenhouse went through pit lane. He finished three laps down in 16th.

During the race, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell tweeted, “Tough call but 17 advanced position and rule is clear on that” to justify the decision.

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

IMAGES Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images NASCAR Media Group