2020, miraculously, is almost in the rear-view mirror. As far as the year is concerned, at the time of this writing, there are only 74 days left until 2021. Unfortunately, that means the end of the NASCAR season is even closer – three races remain on the season, and a champion will be crowned at Phoenix Raceway in only 20 days.
It’s miraculous because, in the pandemic era (jeez, it’s like all I talk about nowadays), it was very-much-in-doubt that we would even get a full 36-race season completed. Somehow, things managed to get back on track, and despite all of the sacrifices and changes, it’s almost like we never stopped at all.
For this, many are thankful. Many in the industry were able to continue working, fans had something to look forward to, and writers like me had so much to talk about.
The pandemic break gave me and the other eNASCAR peeps a chance to shine as NASCAR brought forth a wave of iRacing events to fill the void. When the real racing returned, it gave many writers, who were given access they’ve never had before, a chance to prove their worth in the industry amongst the greats and well known media folk.
It gave many a voice they’ve never had before, and now, those voices are loud, on all sides of the conversation.
Despite the thankfulness that many feel for even having a racing season to watch, complacency isn’t a path that many of those people want to see the sport heading.
So, let’s jump right into it, as the ongoing debate has been fired back up in full force once more.
Let’s talk about the package.
Let me preface it by stating that I’m conflicted.
I watched in agony yesterday, as Kevin Harvick tried, and failed, for over 40 laps to pass the eventual race winner, Joey Logano, at Kansas Speedway.
It was frustrating because it was evident from the roof cam on the broadcast that Harvick was able to catch Logano easily, but if he ever got too close, Logano could take away Harvick’s air on the nose, and force Harvick to have to lift more to not collect the SAFER barrier.
On one hand, what a masterful performance from Logano to predict every single move that Harvick threw at him, and keep calm under intense pressure for over 40 laps. That is a Championship-winning skill that Logano will have in his pocket for the finale at Phoenix Raceway, a place where the No. 22 already has a victory this season back in March.
On the other hand, what the actual hell. Harvick was the dominant car at the end, and he essentially lost the race because he didn’t have a good enough final pit stop. It didn’t matter how fast his car was, because Logano was able to manipulate the air around him to create a barrier that Harvick just could not overcome.
So, what do the fans think?
Honestly, in reading social media, it’s more of a split decision than I thought it would be.
Many fans lean on the side of the damnation of the package, and I tend to side more on that front. It’s incredibly sad that a pass for the lead becomes impossible because of dirty air. At 1.5 mile tracks, the cars are going slow enough that it’s almost full throttle, and so any lifting needed is almost a death sentence due to the lack of acceleration and horsepower. Clean air becomes incredibly more powerful, and gives the leader a huge advantage.
Examples of this include Austin Dillon at Texas, Kurt Busch at Las Vegas, and even last year, when Kyle Busch won the title at Homestead. They played the strategies right, not having the best racecars on those days, and at the end, they could not be overcome by anyone because they played the restarts and used the air correctly.
It gives us unexpected winners, and many will take that as a positive, that a team can be close, but not dominant, and pull off upset victories.
There have been times where the package has worked well, but mainly it comes on late race restarts (see: Cole Custer at Kentucky). If that’s the case, might as well just throw out long runs and just have 10 lap runs over the course of 200 laps and call it a day.
(Please don’t do that, NASCAR.)
For the positives, that side sees yesterday as a fantastic result. The fastest car isn’t guaranteed a victory, and it kept the battle close, and you know what, I was glued. I wanted to see if Harvick could figure out a way to overcome it, and that would have been incredible to see. It kept fans from seeing a complete blowout victory, as well.
If Harvick would have kept the lead on the final pit stops, he would have likely pulled away to a huge victory, with no chance at a battle for the lead. The restarts were fun, exciting, and unpredictable, and it gave drivers the chance to shuffle the order immensely in just a few laps.
That’s where the positives end for me.
Objectively, a perfect race package would give us close racing throughout the event. The fastest car could get to the lead and hold it, but if you pushed too hard, there would be enough tire fall off and less aero effects where someone who maybe saved enough could catch and pass them.
Simply put, let’s have a racecar that gives us side-by-side racing, close battling for the lead, and doesn’t give the leader, no matter if they are the fastest guy or not, an overbearing advantage over the rest of the competition. Give us a car that is less affected by air, and more affected by the driver’s performance inside the car. Give us a car where someone can lead, but not lap the entire field.
Is it a pipe dream? Maybe.
NASCAR engineers are too smart for their own good, and likely will figure out a way to give themselves an advantage in one way or another. However, it’s something that NASCAR can strive to achieve, instead of giving fans and industry members a sugar-coated “we like what we’re seeing” response to outcry over the current rules.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series has had many instances of what I would call “good racing” in 2020, including their last race which was also at Kansas, the night before the Cup Race.
Ryan Sieg played a different tire strategy and had a caution fall his way a few times. Chase Briscoe (who won the event) was so fast, and was able to maneuver through the field to the front without fail. If Sieg would have had another caution or a few more laps, I don’t think it would be out of the realm of possibilities that he could catch and pass Briscoe for his first win.
That’s more compelling to me than watching to see if someone can overcome the air, and if those cautions didn’t fall Sieg’s way, likely, Briscoe would have still won.
Every race is different, so we aren’t going to get the perfect race every time. There is a new car, the “Next-Gen” on the horizon for 2022, so NASCAR fans will hopefully only have to suffer for another full season of the high downforce package.
Some people will like it, some will not, and my hope is that NASCAR executives are truly listening to both sides of the conversation to give us the best possible car for 2022 and beyond. 80 percent be damned, NASCAR has a big task to close the divide among fans with a product that satisfies most.
I am rooting for that outcome, but I’ll always be watching regardless of what we end up with.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com