NASCAR Cup Series

Drivers Asking for Less Downforce and Softer Tires Next Season

By Matt Weaver (BRISTOL, Tenn) — NASCAR and a group of teams tested a collection of possible Gen-6 competition packages on Monday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway. The session resulted in several drivers wanting a high horsepower and low downforce formula that would make the cars harder to driver and perhaps generate additional passing.

In short, NASCAR tested two packages on Monday.

The first was a low downforce formula while the other was a prime package that included the use of dive planes on the nose, a 9-inch spoiler and three different power levels that varied anywhere from 800 to 700 hp.

The power was cut using a restrictor plate on Monday but next season could see the same effects with the use of a modified electronic fuel injector or a tapered spacer. NASCAR also experimented with a driver-adjustable trackbar from inside the cockpit.

Greg Biffle was not one of the drivers at the test but has a very clear stance on the direction that NASCAR should utilize next season.

“It’s the same thing we see over and over again when they take some of the downforce off these cars,” Biffle said. “It creates better racing. This is what I can tell you — when drivers have to lift in the corners, that creates better racing. It creates another chance to catch a guy.

“When you’re barely lifting off the throttle on these intermediate tracks, it doesn’t allow the guy behind you to catch up. So by taking some of the downforce off and softening the tire a little bit, that makes us pit and take four tires and that is how we see some of the best racing every single time.”

NASCAR eliminated the ride height restrictions during the off-season and increased the spoiler size on the Gen-6 car, resulting in additional downforce. The sanctioning body again increased downforce for part of the Monday test and Matt Kenseth opined that the results were not satisfactory from his perspective on the track.

“It was really singled out,” Kenseth said. “You couldn’t pass. You could draft a little bit more on the straightaway but you’re almost wide open in the corners and it was really bad.”

At the end of the test, NASCAR took off the downforce and gave back the horsepower and Kenseth says the package received unanimous praise from the participating drivers.

“It was awesome,” Kenseth said. “It was like going back in time 15 years or something. You could actually pass in the corner instead of worrying about drafting in the straightaway. You could get one guy on the bottom and one guy on the top and the air wasn’t so turbulent that you couldn’t get on the outside of people.

“So the track got really wide and it was like the track aged 10 years and it was awesome.”

His teammate, Denny Hamlin agreed, tweeting that the “2015 aero test was a bit disappointing … Right up until the end. We may have found something that actually moves the needle for passing.”

Jeff Burton has raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 1993 and has competed under a variety of different competition packages. On Friday afternoon, he said that the only way less downforce will increase competition is if Goodyear develops a longer lasting softer tire to compensate for the lack of mechanical grip.

“Every time we’ve taken downforce away and not put on a better tire on the car, it’s always been worse,” Burton told Popular Speed. “The one thing we’ve never done is take downforce away and added extra grip with the tires and that’s what the drivers have been clamoring for.

“If Goodyear can build a softer tire — one that will last and stay soft, then it is a viable option. My question is that I don’t know if they can. I feel like that’s something we need to look at if we can. If they don’t feel like they can, then that’s not going to work. If you’re going to take downforce away you have to find a way to get grip in them because history has told that story.”

By Matt Weaver

Matt Weaver is the Executive Editor of POPULAR SPEED. He has covered NASCAR since 2011 and full-time since 2013. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He has been published all across the country and routinely makes radio appearances on Sirius XM Satellite radio and NBC Sports Radio Network.

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