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NASCAR Cup Martinsville

Hamlin: Short track aero package "terrible" at Martinsville

Despite getting fairly positive reviews at Phoenix and Richmond, the NASCAR Cup Series’ new short-track aero package came up woefully short in its debut at Martinsville on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Camry

In fact, in most comments following Sunday’s race, drivers said they could tell no difference in the racing with the new package, or in some instances, thought Sunday’s race was worse than last year.

Officially, Sunday’s race featured five cautions (two for stage breaks) and three green-flag passes for the lead. There were 10 official lead changes (including during pit stops and green-flag pit stops) and two drivers combined to lead 244 of the 400 laps.

The race did see 2,026 green-flag passes throughout the field according to NASCAR’s Loop Data, which was up significantly from one year ago (1,223). Most of the action did not involve battles for the lead, however.

Difficult to pass

“The package was terrible – it’s either the package or the tires. You can’t pass,” driver Denny Hamlin said. “Cars that I was lapping 10 laps before, we caught a caution, and I couldn’t pass them for second. It’s very difficult.

“Next Gen racing is all about strategy, execution on pit road – that’s who wins. Rarely does the car that dominates or the best car win, simply because you can’t control the race when you need to – at least we couldn’t.

“We made a great strategy call at the end to get positions back.”

A track position game

The top three finishers in Sunday’s race – Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. – all spent most of the race running mid-pack or worse but by staying out during late cautions in the race, moved to the front and were able hold off cars on newer tires.

Larson – who took just two new tires on his final stop – passed Logano with 29 of 400 laps remaining and won by over 4 seconds over Logano, who did not pit. Yet, even Logano and Truex were able to ward off any challenges from drivers who had taken four new tires on their final stop.

“I guess as far as the aero stuff, I didn’t notice anything different with this package here compared to last year,” Larson said.

“Yeah, it’s just I think Phoenix I felt a little bit different. Richmond I felt a lot better with it. And here, if you would have told me that we had the same package (as last year), I would agree.”

The new rules package, which was tested in the offseason at Phoenix, consists of a 2-inch spoiler and the removal of three diffuser strakes and engine panel strakes. The changes led to an approximately 30-percent reduction in downforce.

At both Phoenix and Richmond, it was visibly clear in the race cars appeared more difficult to handle and slid around the track to a much greater degree than last season. That was not nearly as noticeable on Sunday.

“I’m pretty sure everybody kind of saw it. It’s really challenging to pass still,” Logano said. “It’s kind of interesting how some tracks it’s definitely improved it and at some tracks it hasn’t. Richmond was a much better race. Here at Martinsville, I’d say we probably have to go back to the drawing board to try and find something else to help racing a little bit more.”

Another factor

Logano also believes the closeness of the field on speed contributes to the problem.

“They gave us a box with cars that are all identical. Well, we’re all going to end up running that same speed for the most part,” he said. “When all the cars are within a tenth (of a second) of each other, you can’t pass.

“There’s got to be more speed differential through the field.”

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