Too soon to tell: Mike Helton says not to judge rules package just yet
Following the debut of a high-drag aerodynamic package in Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, drivers' reactions to the package ranged from critical to downright unhappy.
Speaking Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton indicated that the sanctioning body believes it's too early to make a complete, fair assessment on the effectiveness of the package, which was designed with the goal of increasing passing and improving the overall level of competition at the mostly flat, 2.5-mile track where passing is notoriously difficult.
"The fans and the industry saw the race unfold as we did, and there were certainly some components of it, the balance of competition, the opportunities that this package presented for the drivers to perform were of benefit," Helton told SiriusXM. "We've heard the expressions of some of the drivers that didn't like some of characteristics of the package, and we can absorb all the science and the data that we collect, including talking to the industry, the drivers, the crew members and the competition departments of the teams and the car owners to take all of that now and absorb it."
Helton wasn't surprised by drivers' range of reactions after the Brickyard 400, a race that for NASCAR ranks second only to the Daytona 500 in notoriety and prestige.
"That's part of the reason we created this specific package for Indianapolis was to see the characteristics of it, knowing that there's a lot of personalities in the garage area that have different opinions, and they know they have different opinions, but it's on NASCAR to come up with the one that we put in front of the fans on each individual race track each weekend," Helton said. "So we'll take time."
Sunday's 164-lap race produced 16 lead changes among six drivers, compared to 15 lead changes among nine drivers in the 2014 Brickyard 400.
Drivers didn't hold back, however, in their harsh critiques of the new package which included a nine-inch rear spoiler with a one-inch wicker bill, a two-inch front splitter and a 43-inch radiator pan.
Among the most outspoken critics were 2003 Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth, who called the package, "terrible," and second-year Sprint Cup driver Kyle Larson, who dubbed it "terrible" and "really bad."
"We should do a better job of explaining why we're doing this," Helton said. "First and foremost, it's just to build the most competitive type of motorsports that we can build. We want our product on the racetrack to be pleasing to the fans, and that means close competition. You can walk through the garage area and ask 15, 20 different people what close competition means and you'll get 15 different opinions of it, but all of them agree that it's passing, balance of competition, being able to work your way through the field.
"Everybody agrees on those elements, but how do you get there is on us. It's on NASCAR as the regulatory body of the sport to figure out the rules package."
A virtually identical rules package to the one used at Indy returns at Michigan International Speedway next month. This weekend at Pocono Raceway, the Sprint Cup Series will compete with the original 2015 rules package being used at most tracks this season.