CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have more control over the performance of their cars than ever before in 2015 thanks to the introduction of a cockpit-mounted track bar control switch.
Despite the increased flexibility it may provide teams this season, there is already an overwhelming concern from drivers that it will decrease passing opportunities and increase single-file parades on the intermediate tracks that make up a bulk of the schedule.
One of the most ardent detractors of the option is Clint Bowyer, who didn’t mince words when taking questions about the technology last week at the annual NASCAR Media Tour.
“I hate it,” Bowyer said. “I thought we were trying to create some environment on the race track, some passing and some differences. I hate to be the Debbie Downer but I think this is going to create the exact opposite. If I was the only one with a track bar adjustment and the car in front of me didn’t have one, then yeah, I could pass a lot of cars. … ”
“But I’m not the only one out there that has that. If everyone can make their cars better then how can I get around him?”
Bowyer explained passing opportunities in previous seasons were predicated by a leading car handling worse than the trailing car, due to miscalculating adjustments on pit road or changing track conditions. Bowyer fears that drivers adjusting their track bars from inside the car and during a run will eliminate that element of the sport.
“(With) those adjustments you had to wait for the next pit stop,” Bowyer said. “So you had what you had and you just had to get the most out of it — get up on the wheel and make the difference. I really fear having those adjustments inside the race car is going to make the racing more even.”
Drivers will have the track bar toggle switch in his car, mounted on the steering wheel or on the dash, not unlike his brake bias or fan options. Flipping the toggle will run a motor which will run the track bar up or down, depending on the driver’s preference.
NASCAR has mandated the strength of the track bar motor so that it’s not possible to have one drastic setting from the corner to another one the straightaways on the same lap. The strength of the motor combined with the load on the track bar will also be enough to generally prevent drivers from adjusting while in the process of rolling his or her car through the corner.
Matt Kenseth is equally concerned about the device as his Toyota stablemate but says he’s going to reserve total judgment until they use it in the second race of the season, at Atlanta Motor Speedway – the first downforce race of the season.
“I’ve got to put some thought into that,” Kenseth said. “Everyone will have different opinions until we run it but in my mind — and it’s just my first guess — I would think it will make it more difficult to pass.
“The guy in front has to be handling worse than the guy behind to be able to pass but if both guys are adjusting their cars to make it better, I don’t know how it’s going to make passing easier.”
Carl Edwards and Aric Almirola have both experimented with the switch during a recent Goodyear tire test and both drivers felt that fans would not be able to see a noticeable difference on television or in the grandstands.
Almirola said it wasn’t a “big deal” while Edwards added that “it wasn’t as big of a change as I thought it would be.”
The biggest difference might be found on pit road where teams will be able to shave nearly a full second off pit stops this season, according to Richard Petty Motorsports crew chief Drew Blickensderfer.
“One thing it will change from a crew chief perspective is that I’m going to go with a track bar adjustment nine out of 10 … because he can make it under caution while he is riding around,” Blickensderfer said. “I don’t have to put a wrench in it during the pit stop and every time you put a wrench in a car during a pit stop, you’re taking away a half second, 7/10s of a second off your stop and we’re not going to waste that.”
Fellow RPM crew chief Trent Owens agreed, adding that the device will also cut down on pit road mistakes this season, as rear tire carriers will no longer be at risk of leaving a wrench inside the car or not making the adjustment in the first place.
“It’s just an option that I like,” Owens said. “I like that we’re trying that out. It will eliminate the possibility of mistakes on pit road, improve our pit stops. So from my seat it’s all for the better.”
The major concern for drivers moving forward is mistakenly dialing themselves out of contention or adjusting without notifying their crew chief. Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick hasn’t tested the track bar control but says he is well aware of the potential pitfalls.
“I view the track bar as a category of something where you can get yourself in a heap of trouble by overthinking, over-adjusting and not keeping it simple,” Harvick said. “We’ll go through that stuff in practice and know whether or not it’s working for that particular situation, track and tire for that weekend.
“If it’s something you feel like is adjustable to a certain point then those will be your parameters for the race and we’ll get more accustomed to that as we go through the season.”
Additional driver adjustable track bar quotes:
“I did get a chance to play around with the driver adjustable track bar and it did’t do as much as I thought it would. It wasn’t as big of a change as I thought it would be. I think it will be interesting to see how people use it. I still think that we won’t know until halfway through that race at Atlanta.” – Carl Edwards
“Before you adjust it, you have to make sure you’re not dialing yourself out. You have to communicate where you’re at, but the challenging part is you don’t want to tell everyone where you’re at. It’s going to be interesting to see how what works out.” -Joey Logano
“I played with it a little bit. It was nice to feel the car in corner entry after making different movements as well as corner exit. And then there will be the track bar situation on old tires versus new tires and things like that. Having more tools inside the car, it will be interesting to see which driver manages it the best.” – Kurt Busch
“I think with certain drivers, you should be really concerned. I’ve worked with some in the past that you don’t know what’s going on in there and he doesn’t know what’s going on there either.” -Drew Blickensderfer
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