NASCAR's low-downforce aero package gets tires to match at Darlington

NASCAR last ran this low-downforce aero package at Kentucky where it was considered a success.

The only new NASCAR aerodynamic package to receive rave reviews so far this season gets another tryout in Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

The first use of the low-downforce package preferred by drivers came in the July Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway and produced a stellar race, both visually and statistically.

Drivers have been wanting fall-off (in the tires) – they want the car to take off fast and then slow down as the run goes on

Jeff Burton

There were 2,665 green-flag passes throughout the entire field, compared with 1,147 in last year’s race. There were also a record 22 green-flag passes for the lead.

At times there was three or four-wide racing for position throughout the field.

Kentucky lacked the right tires

But even then, the aero package did not have tires specifically matched to it from Goodyear. That will not be the case this weekend.

With the help of a tire test in late June with drivers Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart, Goodyear is debuting a new left and right side tire for the Cup series this weekend.

Compared to what was run at Darlington last year – and in response to NASCAR’s lower downforce package – the left-side tire features construction and mold shape changes, while the right-side tire features a compound change for more grip.

What the drivers want

Former Cup series driver Jeff Burton, now a TV analyst for NBC Sports, said the combination in use this weekend is what drivers have been seeking for a long time.

“They’ve been wanting a tire that makes a lot more grip and less downforce. In principle, it’s a great idea,” Burton said Tuesday during an NBC Sports teleconference call. “Everybody has told me this tire is almost a second faster than the tire that was originally slated (for Darlington).

“Then you take the downforce off and speeds will be similar. Drivers have been wanting fall-off – they want the car to take off fast and then slow down as the run goes on to give an opportunity on a long run to catch somebody and pass them and not be hampered by the downforce coming from the other car.”

Tire wear at Darlington

Historically, tire wear has been a large component of races at Darlington. When the track was repaved prior to the 2008 season, however, some of that distinctiveness was lost.

The passage of time, combined with the new aero rules and tire combination, could be a recipe for an excellent race.

“With this tire, while the goal was to match the low downforce, we may be in a situation where it matches a track perfectly,” said former Cup crew chief Steve Letarte, also an NBC Sports analyst.

“If Darlington’s surface has aged as we all hope it has, then it’s going provide a unique opportunity for crew chiefs to have multiple attempts to change their car and the fight for track position won’t be as glaring as on some of these other recently repaved tracks.

“With spots in the (Chase) still available, I think we’re going to see much more desperate (pit) calls from guys who see their opportunity to make the playoffs dwindling.”

Only two races remain before the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set following the conclusion of the Sept. 12 race at Richmond.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Event Darlington
Track Darlington Raceway
Drivers Jeff Burton
Article type Preview
Tags aero package, goodyear, low-downforce, steve letarte