Low downforce, high drag, current aero package -- everything is on the table at this week's test.
Cole Pearn went to the Chicagoland tire test prepared for anything.
In the wake of NASCAR’s decision to institute a low downforce package at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway — along with a high drag configuration for Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway — the crew chief of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy is following the sanctioning body’s lead.
As a single car team, Furniture Row can change direction quickly. But with Martin Truex Jr.’s win at Pocono Raceway and the team currently fifth in the point standings and a likely lock for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it would certainly help the Denver-based organization to know what lies ahead to strategize for the playoffs.
“Right now we’re focussing on the current aero package because from what I’ve heard that what we’ll be running in the Chase,” Pearn said. “If that’s the case, we’ll spend time on that but they’ve prepared us to bring the low downforce and then we’re scrambling to run the high drag package also. But our focus is definitely on the current aero configuration.”
NASCAR debuted the low downforce package to rave reviews at Kentucky last weekend. Many of the drivers advocated for that setup and praised the sanctioning body for thinking outside of the box.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France says that while the sanctioning body will take the drivers recommendations to heart, the main focus is tighter racing, lead changes, passing through the field and how many more teams can be competitive with a certain package.
While France called the competition at Kentucky “an improvement” he feels there should be more pack racing and drafting on intermediate tracks.
Our mission is to have the cars as close as possible, we want as many lead changes as possible and most importantly we want the drivers that have the talent and the teams to have their hard work and talent taken as far as they can to have a real shot.
“We saw some things that we liked and that was pretty obvious,” France said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It looked like there was more passing, there’s no question about that. The cars were harder to drive — we saw some additional cautions as a result of that. There’s a little bit of that possibly with not having a lot of practice time. But they were slip-sliding a little bit more — and so therefore you saw more cautions and you saw more passing.
“But our mission is to have the cars as close as possible, we want as many lead changes as possible and most importantly we want the drivers that have the talent and the teams to have their hard work and talent taken as far as they can to have a real shot. We’re going to keep working at it to make sure that’s the hallmark of NASCAR.”
France understands that testing will not offer NASCAR a solid overview of each aerodynamic package, which is why the sanctioning body is relying “on real racing time…to learn things that are true”.
Truex and J.J Yeley spent Monday running the current aero package. On Tuesday, the teams switched over to the low downforce setup. Pearn believes a higher downforce package will deliver the style of racing France is in search of.
All the two-car CFD work shows that to create tighter competition you have to have higher downforce because the car behind loses a certain amount of percentage from being in the first car’s wake and that percentage just gets greater when you take downforce off.
“I don’t really understand the push for lower downforce, then they want the softer tires so the corner speeds are going to be the same and I really don’t see how the racing is going to be any different with that.
“All the two-car CFD work shows that to create tighter competition you have to have higher downforce because the car behind loses a certain amount of percentage from being in the first car’s wake and that percentage just gets greater when you take downforce off.”
Where the rubber meets the road
Goodyear’s Greg Stucker has the arduous task of developing tires to enhance the different car setups. The tire company met with NASCAR prior to the Quaker State 400 to discuss the direction the sanctioning body was taking with the Sprint Cup car aerodynamics.
He was encouraged by the Kentucky results despite not having the optimum tire to accompany the low downforce package. That will change at Darlington after Goodyear tested with Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart on June 30 in an effort to replace aero grip with mechanical grip using a softer tire.
Stucker felt the Darlington test was successful and believes the data his engineers have collected over other summer tests and at the upcoming high drag outings at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan International Raceway, the tire manufacturer will have a better baseline to develop product for the future.
As for this week’s Chicagoland test with Yeley, Truex, Sam Hornish Jr., and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Stucker told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Goodyear is looking to confirm their targeted tire with the current package — the same tires that will be used at Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead Miami Speedway. Stucker added Goodyear has “an idea where we need to be if low downforce is an option for the future.”
Hornish told motorsport.com he only ran a few laps with the high drag car during the test on Monday and it was in the wheel force car — or a wheel transducer car — which collects data for the manufacturer.
When asked whether the nine-inch spoiler on the high drag car made a difference, Hornish replied, “As far as seeing or handling….”
Still, the driver of the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford was encouraged by what he felt with the low downforce package at Kentucky and looks forward to the results of the high drag setup at Indy and Michigan. With either package it’s difficult to ascertain the differences in single car runs.
I thought Kentucky was a good step forward in doing that, but am excited to see what a big jump in drag does for that.
Sam Hornish Jr.
“Regardless of the packages they are trying (Kentucky, Michigan and Indy), they are adding or subtracting downforce fairly equally,” Hornish said. “The only differences you are really able to pick up on are when you’re around other cars and how easy or hard it is to pull up and pass.
“I thought Kentucky was a good step forward in doing that, but am excited to see what a big jump in drag does for that.”
Testing continues at Chicagoland Speedway on Wednesday with Hornish, Yeley, Truex and Earnhardt along with Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgaier and Austin Dillon.