Optimism High for New Rules

NASCAR

A look at the 2.5-inch spoiler on Aric Almirola's Ford.

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – Optimism remains high for the lower downforce rules package in place for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

NASCAR officials implemented modifications to the overall 2016 rules package for this weekend’s race at MIS and next month’s visit to Kentucky Speedway that take away more downforce and sideforce.

A smaller rear spoiler and adjustment to the car’s rear skew are the main elements added to the package as NASCAR continues to seek more competitive racing.

“Well, I think that we made a pretty good step forward with the move we made from the 2015 to the 2016 package,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR vice president of competition. “For aerodynamics in making more competitive racing and closer competition, more passes for the lead. In most cases all the metrics we looked at have been better in those areas.

“So this is just another step toward, again, creating closer competition and great racing that the fans and the media and everybody wants to see. We want to see that really bad, and I think this direction has been something that's been embraced by the drivers, and actually we've worked together with them to land here and try this for this year as a potential way to move forward with closer competition.”

Friday’s practice and qualifying sessions saw higher speeds through both the corners and down the straightaways with average speeds topping 200 mph. However, while reaction has been mostly favorable, there is still much to be observed before gauging whether the rules are successfully reaching goals.

“And as far as today, I think it's difficult to visually see the difference, but when you look at the data from the cars, the speed trace is significantly different, the mid corner speeds are down a lot, the entry speeds are up a little,” Miller explained. “And from some of the driver comments, having to use the brakes pretty hard and maybe even thinking about needing brake cooling and everything at a big track like this is a departure from where we've been before, and we're really hoping that those things actually produce a really, really good race on Sunday.”

Drivers and teams continue to adapt to the impact of the changes hoping to be ready by the time the green flag flies in Sunday’s race.

“Going 220 mph is absolutely fast, no doubt, but the fact we are slowing down so much to go through the corner because the air pushing down on the car creating downforce is so much less that our cars will not allow us to run wide open,” said Aric Almirola. “There is not enough grip there. You have to revert back to mechanical grip and setups over the last several years have been more driver toward aero and just not worrying about mechanical grip, just trying to create as much downforce as you can.

“We are starting to see that trend back up from there. As you take more downforce away it becomes less important and you have to get grip another way. For us we are reverting back to getting mechanical grip.”

But as of now, it’s still very much a guessing game.

“What I’m anticipating is hopefully a lot of slipping and sliding; a loss of momentum, and the ability to stack up some guys and to get a big run from third, fourth, fifth on back,” Kurt Busch said. “That’s what we hope we see and that we don’t have a leader that just gets out there and then we’re not able to chase him down.

“And then the restarts are going to be that much more exciting because of the lack of downforce and how stable will the cars be side-by-side? Nobody knows that yet.”

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