NASCAR makes changes to rules package for July Kentucky race

BY Tom Jensen • June 16, 2015

What was rumored last weekend became official Tuesday, when NASCAR announced it will run a new, low-downforce aero package and a grippier tire at Kentucky Speedway next month.

Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's executive vice president & chief racing development officer, made the announcement during a 4 p.m. ET teleconference with the national media.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is off this weekend and its next two races are on the Sonoma Raceway road course and then at Daytona International Speedway over the Fourth of July weekend. Kentucky Speedway hosts the Quaker State 400 on July 11, which is the next Cup race on a 1.5-mile track.

According to O'Donnell, the major changes for the Kentucky aero package will include a 3.5-inch rear spoiler, a 25-inch wide splitter extension panel with 1.75 inches less overhang on the splitter, which collectively will reduce aerodynamic downforce. The tires used will have more grip, O'Donnell said, but they were not specifically designed for this package.

"I know we've said it many times and certainly want to reinforce it here, that we're committed to putting on the best racing on the track," said O'Donnell. 

Kentucky Speedway will open Wednesday, July 8 for extended practice with the new components. For now, the new package is for Kentucky only, but O'Donnell left the door open for further changes later in the season. "Any options are on the table coming out of Kentucky," said O'Donnell. " ... We're constantly working on all areas of competition, and we'll never consider the racing package final."

The reason for the change is NASCAR wants to improve the quality of the racing, especially at 1.5-mile tracks, five of which are in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Throughout the 2015 season, the leader on races at 1.0-2.0-mile ovals has had a consistent advantage over the second-place car because of aerodynamics. The car in the lead gets more air on its nose, allowing it to turn better.

This was most apparent in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race last month when second-place Kevin Harvick had the fastest car in the race and rapidly ran down leader Denny Hamlin in the final segment. But when Harvick caught Hamlin, his car stalled out in aero wake of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and Hamlin held on to win with a slower car.

After witnessing this phenomenon at multiple races this year, NASCAR decided to act now.

"We've probably been too steadfast about our rules packages being an annual component to the sport," said O'Donnell. " ... When you look at the industry as a whole, we feel as though we're as nimble an industry as we've ever been, with the ability to evolve almost in real time. And I think that's great news for the fans."

Last weekend at Michigan International Speedway, several top drivers lauded NASCAR for its willingness to try the new package.

"At some point NASCAR is trying to get out in front of that and that is their job, to keep the racing as good as it can be," said 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski. " … To me it is a good sign to see them trying to do just that."

Kasey Kahne, the Michigan pole winner, was one of the drivers who has tested a package similar to what will be used at Kentucky, and he's enthusiastic about it.

"I really liked it," Kahne said of the new aero package. "I ran by myself and felt like it was the first time I could really drive the car, control the car, lift and do things to make the car work, rather than just run super-hard all the time like what we are doing."

"I'm looking forward to it, actually," added Martin Truex Jr. "I think it'll be fun."

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