Since 2015, NASCAR has looked at making the racing product better in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. NASCAR tested a lower downforce package at Kentucky and Darlington due to pleas from drivers, while NASCAR chose to use a higher drag package at Michigan and Indianapolis to try things their way.
After much consideration, NASCAR chose to go the way the drivers wanted, a lower downforce package. From 2015 to 2016, NASCAR reduced downforce from 2,700 pounds to 2,000 pounds.
In 2016, NASCAR tested an even lower downforce package at Kentucky and Michigan. After a few minor tweaks, downforce was reduced by 500 pounds.
Has this reduction of downforce made the racing in 2017 better? Let’s take a look at the first seven races of the season! The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has went to every style of racetrack from a superspeedway to a short track and from an old abrasive surface and a newly repaved surface.
The numbers are rather shocking.
The number of green flag passes at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2016 was 3,717. In 2017, that number was 2,811. That is a difference of 27.7574%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was 2210. In 2017, the number was 1,927. A difference of 3.6814%
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Phoenix Raceway was 686. In 2017, the number was 1,026. The number of green flag passes was up by 39.7196%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Auto Club Speedway was 3,346. In 2017, that number was 2,707. A difference of 21.1135%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Martinsville Speedway was 1,207. In 2017, that number was 1,725. The number of passes was up 35.3342%.
In 2016, the number of green flag passes at Texas Motor Speedway, under the old pavement and configuration, was 2,733. In 2017, under the new pavement and configuration, the number of passes was 1,894. The difference is 36.2654%.
Early on in the season the eyeball test showed some issues within this package. Speedway Digest asked Denny Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger what they would change based on the eyeball test and numbers.
“I would just like them to stop changing stuff. It’s tough on us. I thought way at the end of last year I think we had six top 10’s in eight races and we had finally kind of gotten a feel of the aero package of what we needed and had some good race cars when it came to set-up and knowing how we wanted to set them up and they keep changing. I think that is what’s tough here,” said Allmendinger. “Right away we all jump to conclusions that ‘oh it’s not good enough we’ve got to change again.’ You’ve just got to give teams time. The bigger teams, every time you change an aero package the bigger teams are going to succeed in that because they have the wind tunnel time. You would think it would bring the field closer everybody starting over again, well it just separates the field even more because the bigger teams have the more resources to go wind tunnel test and figure out the aero package a lot quicker than other teams do. It’s five races, we all just need to calm down a little bit and give it a whole year and see if it’s working or not and then make a decision after that, but we don’t need to jump to that conclusion after five races.”
Hamlin, who is a member of the Driver’s Council, had this to say about the aero package in 2017 and what changes he would advocate for.
"Well, I think we've had a relatively small sample size. I think that we've had probably fewer cautions than what we've had in the past, and that doesn't help the passes, the green flag passes, because you have jumbling up on pit road, faster cars have a bad pit stop, they've got to come back through the field, so that part of it hampers passing a little bit. It would be interesting to revisit that probably mid to later in the season,” said Hamlin. “But I think overall, the racing itself has been very, very good. We've seen battles for the lead every single week. So overall, we've been pretty happy with it. Corner speeds are down, which is good. That's something that we wanted. There's been more tire falloff this year, which has been good. That's what we wanted. So I think we're heading in a good direction. But early in seasons, there's some teams that are on top right now that are very hot and their cars are fast, and it's going to take a while for the competition to catch up. When they catch up, fields get tighter, more passing happens."
At this point in 2016, there were talks about a lower downforce aero package being used at the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. However, in 2017, the rumor mill has been silent about potential changes in the aero package.