Sunday, October 1, 2023

Opinion: First Test Shows a Lot to Love and Hate About New NASCAR Rules Package

LAS VEGAS, NV – SEPTEMBER 16: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series SouthPoint 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 16, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Toby Christie         

I am completely befuddled. Thursday, NASCAR teams gave us the first taste of the new 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rule package, and I don’t know what to think. There is a lot to dislike about the package.

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However, as the first day of an organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway rolled on it appeared that there is also a lot to celebrate about the package as well.

What I don’t like:

In single-file qualifying-style runs, drivers did not have to brake while putting down hot laps. While many are upset about the cars going slower, it isn’t necessarily the speed that has me grumbling internally, it’s the fact that the cars are equipped with a tire that is far superior than the speeds the cars are turning.

This essentially wipes a ton of the talent that it takes to drive these stock cars around the track. Even 2015 Cup Series champion Kyle Busch said as much after running in the draft on Thursday.

“We have taken the driver skill away from the drivers in this package,” Busch said. “Anybody can go out there and run around there and go wide open. You could probably do it.”

I absolutely hate that drivers now feel that any common human can slide behind the wheel of one of these stock cars and turn a decent single-car lap. It’s a vast change from the way cars have driven in this sport since 1949.

What I do like:

Once cars did get into drafting practice, the on-track product drastically improved. There was hardly any real true breakaway by anyone in the 14-car pack — 13 after Cody Ware suffered a blown motor. It truly looks like nobody should be cruising to a five-or-more second lead at a 1.5-mile speedway in 2019. That is a huge improvement from the product in recent years.

It may even create a little bit more of an open battle for wins at 1.5-mile tracks.

Over the past three seasons, three drivers (Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch) have combined for 21 wins in 33 races at 1.5-mile tracks in that span.

Some fresh faces in victory lane, or at least fresh faces vying for victory would be a nice change of pace.

I also like the fact that the slower speeds and drafting have equalized the competition.

Click here to view the speed chart from the PM drafting test session

Bubba Wallace was fastest in the No. 43 car during the PM drafting test. The 43 team was only 28th in the championship standings a season ago and they certainly were not world beaters on the intermediate ovals.

To see them sitting atop the scoreboard is a testament to the equal nature of the new package.

Even more impressive was the that the slowest Cup Series car on the charts was the No. 00 StarCom Racing car driven by Landon Cassill and it was just over a second slower than Wallace. That is great parity.

What we can expect:

That’s hard to say. Testing is always kind of a cat and mouse game. Hardly anybody wants to ever show their full cards before the circuit actually arrives at a track for points and a trophy.

“It’s definitely different,” said Clint Bowyer of the new package. “It’s just going to take time. Obviously, you guys just witnessed the first stab at it for everybody.”

Although things could look totally different once the package is first used in live race action than what the first day of testing showed, things should be significantly closer on 1.5-mile tracks this season than they have been.

Will there be more passes for the lead? That is debatable.

“When we were up front there early, I passed [Ryan] Newman and then Brad [Keselowski] was leading and there was no way for me to pass Brad,” said Busch. “So, I faded back to see how far back I could get where I found a relatively safe hole that I felt. I think I was about sixth or seventh or something like that.

“I was able to pass a couple of guys, couple guys kinda quick. A couple of other guys it kind of took a little bit to get by them. Then got back up to third or so, then the three was fading. He was doing — he was dropping back. I was behind the 14 trying to work over the 14. Then the 14 pulled over and that’s how I got the lead back. There was no — once I got to third — or second — it didn’t seem like you could do anything with the guys in front of you.”

Drivers and teams will get two more chances to draft on Friday. The first session is set for 12pm ET, while the second session is set for 1:30pm ET.

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Toby Christie
Toby Christie
Toby is the Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Toby is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, he is an award-winning writer, and has followed the sport as a fan since 1993.

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