Whew. We can all breathe a sigh of relief.
When NASCAR announced Phoenix Raceway as the host of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship race, there was a sense of panic in the industry.
The sport’s newly developed high-downforce, low-horsepower package had produced less than intriguing results at road courses, short tracks and the 1-mile ovals in 2019.
In fact, last fall’s penultimate Playoff race at Phoenix was a follow the leader affair, which produced just eight lead changes. In the end, Denny Hamlin cruised to the win after leading 143 of the 312 laps.
After making the announcement that the championship race would move from Homestead-Miami Speedway to Phoenix, NASCAR also announced that they would be slicing the rear spoiler on cars at tracks under 1.5-mile from 8-inches tall down to 2.75-inches tall, as well as numerous other subtle changes.
Sunday’s race at Phoenix, as a result, was a total contrast of last fall.
The race featured 20 lead changes, more than double what the race in the fall of 2019 produced, and all day long we were treated to wild racing for the lead and deep in the pack. At the end of the day it wasn’t just the fans and media breathing a sigh of relief. NASCAR was, as well.
“You certainly want to see what we saw today,” said NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell. “A lot of different lead changes. And this comes from a lot of work from the entire industry. Going back to Nashville, everybody getting together to talk about what we could collectively do for the sport, specifically for this race track. The race teams came together, the drivers, Goodyear and I think all of that played a part today. Not only tire wear, PJ1 that was applied, the rules package as well.”
O’Donnell said that the sanctioning body knew something needed to change for the shorter tracks on the schedule after 2019, but what really got the entire industry on the same page, was the announcement of Phoenix as the championship race.
“It was an exclamation point of what we knew we needed to do on a short track package,” O’Donnell explained. “We all felt we needed to address it in some way. But I think what may have pushed us over the edge as a group is knowing the championship is here, and we had this race to try some things and see if it works. We hoped it would work and if not we were gonna pull another lever and see what we could do. But, yeah that I think was the exclamation point.”
After what was shown on Sunday, O’Donnell and NASCAR as a whole seem to be pleased with what they saw on Sunday, and unless something odd happens going forward, this should be the package we see all season.
“I think our intent is to stay with this package, barring something that we see throughout the year,” O’Donnell said. “This was the first big test, obviously with the championship, so expect us to stick with this one.”
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.