Monday, July 27, 2015

One Hand Clapping For Brickyard Busch

It was one hand clapping at the end.

Kyle Busch seized the Brickyard 400 on a restart with 11 to go and seized his fourth win in the last five races, a surge of success reminiscent of his 2008 binge of victories in his debut season with Joe Gibbs Racing.   The 22nd running of the Brickyard 400 and also the Saturday Brickyard 250 offered Kyle Busch two for the price of one and also served as the first race weekend for NASCAR's higher downforce package.  

Looking at some of the subplots of the 2015 Brickyard 400 -

A discouraging first weekend for the high downforce package - Drivers were unhappy with how their cars raced in the Brickyard with a nine-inch spoiler, wider radiator pan, and lower airdam clearance.   The hope was this package would increase drag and thus create a drafting effect to create more passing.    The result for both races was an extreme disappointment.   Cars could suck up on other cars noticeably better than in years past, but the draft never kicked in to any worthwhile effect outside of Kyle Busch's retro-1970s finish in the 250 with Ryan Blaney, stalking him in the final laps then gunning him down on the backstretch.  

The lack of passing is certainly discouraging, though some silver linings did show up - not only did the draft make an actual appearance at the Brickyard, albeit to grossly insufficient effect, what was striking was how often drivers complained that they were loose behind other cars, a 180 from the aeropush era's cliché about "my car pushed bad in traffic."  

Some unfavorably compared the package to the low downforce package at Kentucky where passing did increase.   Kentucky got lucky to some extent there and while passing shot up from last year's incidence, in the end it was not that much greater than the previous high that track produced.   And the fact remains that history has shown us how this retro-5&5 Rule Package failed long-term in 1998 and also in the mid-2000s decade when John Darby took over the garage and cut downforce after 2003.  

The caveat in all this has remained tires.   Drivers wanted a softer tire for Kentucky and presumably will get one for Darlington when the Retro-5&5 Package returns.   The issue, though, isn't softer tires as much as bias ply-type tires, tires that are more forgiving than radials have usually been.   That Goodyear won't build bias ply NASCAR tires is true enough - "They don't sell (bias plies) to the public," MRN's Dave Moody notes - but it can build tires the drivers can lean on hard and race hard with, because at times we have seen cases where Goodyear brought tires the drivers could indeed lean hard on - this was evident in the Erik Jones-Kasey Kahne sidedraft epic in the Truck 200 at Charlotte in May.  So there's no reason they can't come up with a radial that races like bias plies - a tire that's forgiving and the drivers can lean hard on.

That NASCAR will run different downforce packages for different tracks from now on seems evident now; a high downforce "draft" package should work on tracks like Indianapolis and Michigan where a Retro-5&5 Package seems to work at places like Kentucky and Darlington; getting the right tires remains a part of the varied packages.

Kevin Harvick becomes NASCAR's Aaron Rodgers again -  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers puts up gaudy volume stats and touchdowns, but in the clutch he's been mediocre at best, still unable to win a game where he has to stage any kind of significant comeback and just 2-4 in the playoffs the last four seasons; he has especially come up small against the Seahawks.   Kevin Harvick has developed a reputation similar to Rodgers - he leads the most laps race after race yet never cashes in with it.   He came up short again at the Brickyard, finishing third.    It has been a consistent pattern of Harvick; if NASCAR increased the bonus for most laps led by a significant amount - it should, BTW - Harvick would be a lot closer to the championship than he presently is. 

Toyota's one-man show - True, three JGR Toyotas finished in the top-ten and so did the increasingly woebegone Michael Waltrip outfit as Clint Bowyer grabbed a top-ten, this while David Ragan showed some respectable form during the day.   But it remains Kyle Busch's show, and the difference he makes is graphic considering Toyota got nothing out of his substitutes and has basically gotten nothing out of anyone else now that he's back.  

Hendrick Killers - Kyle Busch's surge has done something astonishing - Hendrick Motorsports had a lousy day at the Brickyard and haven't been all that hot since winning the Firecracker; ironic that Dale Junior brought out a late yellow while Jeff Gordon, the last entrant in the 1994 Brickyard 400 still racing, crashed out, leading to a media joke about how his NASCAR debut was in Richard Petty's final race and The King went out in a blaze.

Forget Ford - Penske had a good day despite struggle with Brad Keselowski's outfit, and once again that was it as far as Ford goes.   Aric Almirola had an encouraging effort but crashed, while his MIA teammate Sam Hornish Jr. had a better-than-expected finish, but that was it for Ford; Petty's team still had a better day than the Roush-Fenway mess lowlighted by Trevor Bayne bringing out the last yellow.  

There was a Ryan Newman sighting - The stealth Newman finished 11th, the best for the RCR bunch.   Austin Dillon's forgettable foray to Cup continued getting worse with a pit speeding penalty he never recovered from.  

So it goes with the Brickyard behind us and Pocono ahead.

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