Whatever you call the sticky stuff on the track — VHT, PJ1 Trackbite — it’s been applied to New Hampshire Motor Speedway with a new strategy spurred on by the drivers council.
The middle lane at New Hampshire is the actual racing groove, which the track left untouched. But the high lane got a 10-foot-wide strip of PJ1 in the corners, and the low lane got a five-foot strip to help them hook the bottom.
So there’s basically two stripes on the track where drivers can try and gain some grip.
And unlike the tire dragon at Kentucky Speedway, the drivers council was totally in the loop this time.
“I like it when they (ask for input) instead of just (springing) it on all of us when we get to the track, because if it doesn’t work, then it’s just their bad idea,” Kyle Busch said. “But at least if the council is involved, it’s all of our bad idea.”
In a small group session with reporters on Friday morning, Jimmie Johnson recalled how the conversations shifted from just putting the PJ1 on the high side to also adding it on the low lane — which he said “shocked” him.
Why? Because “we could almost make the bottom lane the place to be, and the goal is to create extra lanes,” Johnson said.
The compromise was to make a much smaller patch on the bottom lane. The idea, Johnson said, was drivers would have to work really hard to get down there but only have a mild reward for it.
Meanwhile, the top lane would pay bigger dividends if a driver chose to use it.
Will it work? Well, that remains to be seen. There’s a chance one of the PJ1-aided lanes could become too dominant, in which case the track could just reapply less of it on Saturday.
Either way, Johnson said, “I don’t think there’s a wrong move right now.”
“I think the wrong move would be for us to do nothing,” he said. “I think the wrong move would be for us not to experiment. I truly feel the way we can add lanes through this product, we have to explore, we have to try and we will develop and evolve the process. I think a year from now, we’ll have a much clearer vision on what works and how to do it.”
After the Bristol experiment was at least a moderate success with the way it shook up the racing, drivers are eager to see how PJ1 works at other tracks. And why not? The alternative is tracks completely tearing up the surface and reconfiguring, which isn’t going to happen at a place like New Hampshire (which got cut to one race per year starting in 2018).
So the sticky stuff is worth trying on tracks that typically don’t put on a good show (coughNewHampshirecough).
“After 10 or 15 laps here, everyone is kind of where they are at and passes don’t happen often,” Joey Logano said. “The wider we can make the racetrack, the more air we can get on the nose, the more passes that can be made.
“It is a learning process on how it works. I think it’s great that NASCAR, the tracks, drivers, teams, everyone is open to trying it. It is something that could be a larger deal than we all think, for sure.”
UPDATE: NASCAR added four feet to the width of the bottom lane prior to Saturday’s on-track activity, thus making a full groove for drivers to try.