There has been much consternation about the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rules package. Expectations and anticipation that the somewhat controversial direction NASCAR took with this year’s rules has been sky high since a January test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway not only met but exceeded those lofty hopes.
Kansas provided the perfect recipe for the package to allow drivers an opportunity to produce the best race of the season. The combination of the rules’ impact of the car’s handling coupled with the cool temperatures that created high grip around a now very wide Kansas Speedway created something not seen before on a 1.5-mile track. Cars were tighter together, drafting was on display as was three and four wide racing and the outcome was in question until the checkered flag flew.
In short it was everything NASCAR had hoped for when the rules direction was designed.
It’s ironic the race happened at the end of a week spent discussing whether or not the rules were working and a number of drivers (and team owners) lamenting about the difficulty in passing due to the aerodynamic by products of the package. What Saturday night showed is that drivers can race competitively when 1) they choose to and 2) the conditions are right.
Was Kansas just a perfect storm? There are more intermediate tracks on the near horizon that it won’t take too long to find out.
At the very minimum Saturday night’s race proved to even the biggest skeptics of the 2019 rules it can meet its intended goals.
- It’s hard to fathom with the wild and tight racing on Saturday night that somehow a multi-car accident (or two) didn’t erupt. It’s a testament to both the skill of those holding the steering wheel in NASCAR’s top division and to be fair probably the increased amount of downforce as well that nobody even spun out. There were times when the Kansas backstretch looked like Talladega’s Alabama Gang Superstretch especially in the closing laps with the only difference being everyone made it back around to the finish line without crashing.
- The weekend was full of discussion regarding the relationship between drivers and NASCAR in the wake of comments made last week after Dover. Some drivers and team owners voiced frustration about their voices not being heard by the sanctioning body specifically in the development and evolution of the new rules package. Not everyone agrees including Chase Elliott, who said in Kansas driving the car is his main job. "Frankly, I’ve tried to voice my opinion at different times or in those meetings we’re supposed to voice our opinions in," Elliott said. "At the end of the day, I’ve kind of come to the realization and maybe this will change as time goes, but I just don’t think my opinion really matters to the people who make the rules. Really and truly, I’m not sure that it should." Joey Logano referenced the many voices in and around the sport that should be heard. "You think of our fans for one," Logano said. "It has to be a good race. It has to look good and be good passing. Our TV partners will weigh in on that. Media members weigh in on that. The team owners weigh in on that. And yes, the drivers will weigh in on that."
- Friday night’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race turned out to be a thrilling and in the case of Stewart Friesen heartbreaking affair. Friesen was once again denied a series win when he came up short on fuel just a handful of laps from the finish opening the door for Ross Chastain to score his first career victory. But up until the late drama, the trucks put on an entertaining show with plenty of side-by-side racing throughout the 250-mile affair. That the night ended in disappointing for Friesen and jubilation for the underdog Chastain-Niece Motorsports team just added to the memorable night.
- This was the last Mother’s Day weekend racing for Kansas Speedway. Next year the night before the holiday moves under the lights to Martinsville Speedway while Kansas reverts back to a pair of more traditional Sunday Cup Series weekend with the first coming in late May. Kansas inherited the Mother’s Day date in 2014 after hosting a late April weekend for years. The track did a good job of marketing the Saturday night event but Kansas president Pat Warren is ready for the next evolution of the facility’s schedule in 2020 that still includes an October race in the playoffs. "Our fans have been asking for a summer race date change because of the number of high school and college graduations in our area," Warren said of the May 31, 2020 date. "With most schools out by the end of May, our new summer date should not only allow fans to plan their vacations for Kansas Speedway, but they will also be able to officially kick off summer here."
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.