Monday, May 22, 2017

The NASCAR Fall-Star Race And Continued Rules Struggle

The expectations for the first NASCAR All-Star Race under Monster Energy tutelage were high, especially given that it marked the 25th anniversary of the first All-Star Race run at night, a race whose brutal finish is naturally still celebrated.

The All-Star Race was perhaps the least competitive running since segmenting was changed after Davey Allison led wire to wire in 1991.   The All-Star Open wasn't much better until things got hairy at the finish.  Eric Jones' ill-advised attempt to blast into the lead by hammering the grass killed his night.

Post-race reaction among fans and media was negative - typified by Autoweek's piece advocating taking the race away from Charlotte and running it somewhere else, such as Bristol or Iowa or a road course.   Given the worthlessness of road racing, running an all-star race on one can never work, nor are short tracks anything resembling the answer.   

It reflects the continued universal frustration at the lack of passing on the bigger ovals - a plague that has nothing to do with the track layouts and everything to do with racecars with too much horsepower, too little grip, and no drafting effect being generated - and Goodyear's much-hyped options with soft or hard tires proved laughably irrelevant, perhaps the funniest example of how NASCAR and fans got hoist with their own petard after they believed their own propaganda about cutting downforce and thus improving passing.

A report on a proposed 2018 rule package suggests the Cup cars will run a conventional airdam instead of a splitter - Eric Jones' Charlotte crash that tore his splitter to bits would seem to add credence to this - would remove the sharkfin run for years now, increase the spoiler from 2.5 inches to four, and remove side skirts to lessen sideforce.   The hope is to reduce corner speeds, though given history I'm not holding breath that it will do that.   The spoiler-airdam proposal seems to make sense, though I'd prefer a substantially larger spoiler; the history of the larger spoiler has generally been positive for competitive racing, it's been spoiler reductions that have been a bollox.   I'm intrigued how removing the sideskirts affects things, for the sideforce issue has shown itself to be serious in the Truck Series.

The rule package that oddly has gone completely under the radar (outside of a reference on NASCAR's Sirius/XM radio morning drive show)  has been the Xfinity package to be run at the Brickyard in July. The use of drag ducts on the Xfinity cars attacks the issue of the weakness of the draft for the cars, and certainly the Cup cars need all the draft they can get pretty much regardless of track - it is thus baffling that Cup cars haven't tested drag ducts.   The issue of horsepower has also gone unaddressed; the reality is the Trucks are the only of the three major touring series that has gotten horsepower under control; the Xfinity series has been okay as far as controlling horsepower; Cup has completely ignored the fact horsepower needs to be controlled, and seriously so.  

As far as individual racer performances went, the lack of passing makes gauging the drivers trickier - Kyle Busch's win was a milestone for him given he's never won a race in a Cup car at Charlotte before.   Kyle Larson was probably the strongest car given he led the most laps, except he never led again after the third segment started.    The All-Star Open was more interesting given the hairiness of the finish, but among those who advanced from it only Chase Elliott was relevant to anything at the end of the main race; he struggled and fell to Daniel Suarez in the Open while Austin Dillon finished second, this as it appeared Elliott would just breeze into the lead and be done with it.    Also noteworthy was Regan Smith, who ran respectably in Richard Petty's #43 in his first race subbing for injured Aric Almirola, out for two months and maybe three.  

So Charlotte's 2017 NASCAR week gets off to a terrible start.   One hopes it can get better.

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