Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Charlotte Now Beckons

With the eye-popping Mason-Dixon 400 NASCAR now heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the annual All Star Race, while the race to actually anticipate also hits on Friday in the Charlotte Truck 200.   Dover gave the sport a needed competitive boost and one also remembers the epic sidedraft war between Kasey Kahne and Erik Jones in last season's Truck 200.   So one enters the All Star Race with some sense of optimism about the competition.

The Dover race has gotten a lot of analysis, yet curiously little examination of what was its key development - how raceable the tire was.   The tire used was not particularly different from the tire used at Dover in previous season, but the way it raced was different.   The Kenseth-Larson-Elliott battle showcased a tire that was forgiving and as such eminently raceable; it also showed no particular fall-off, and by doing so illustrated why the tire should not have fall-off - by being sustainable it helped Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott fight Kenseth for the lead, fall back, then catch back up and attack again.

In short it raced more like a bias-ply tire than like the traditional stock car radial, notorious for requiring the driver to catch the car more than race it.   Rare have been the races in the radial era where the tire was as forgiving as a bias-ply.

The 1995 World 600 was one of the most competitive in history, and was a race where the tire was forgiving

The Charlotte period also comes with a new change to the downforce of the cars, centered on trailing arms and also toe alignment to prevent chassis "skew." No doubt some are emboldened about low downforce with the competitiveness of the Dover race, which makes overlooking the forgiveness of the tire more unwise - especially with a change in the Charlotte tire for the Cup cars designed for more grip - and hopefully more forgiveness.

It also overlooks the competitiveness of the Truck Series, which has higher downforce and substantially less horsepower to go with a tire that has repeatedly been more raceable.


The rumor that won't go away is that Chevrolet is working to put Kevin Harvick in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevy after 2016 to keep him out of a Ford when Stewart-Haas Racing.   Harvick has addressed the rumor and insists he's staying with SHR, but the fact this rumor refuses to go away indicates something behind the scenes is happening.  

And it's been awhile since poaching of drivers was a NASCAR issue - the most famous examples remain the Jeff Gordon to Hendrick change (1992) and Ford's grab of Ernie Irvan during 1993 following Davey Allison's death.  

It nonetheless awaits the coming two weekends at Charlotte.

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