Four of NASCAR’s top young drivers expressed reservations Friday about moving forward with the high-drag/downforce aero package in future races.
While Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and Christopher Bell all agreed on the entertainment value of the aero package — which was highly popular with fans in the recent All-Star Race — they said it wouldn’t be fitting for the Cup Series unless tweaks were made.
“As a race car driver, it’s pretty easy to drive,” Bowman said. “We’re the premier stock car series in the world, so obviously you would like it to be a little more difficult to drive. You don’t just want to go everywhere and be wide open.”
The aero package was first used at the Indianapolis Xfinity race last season and most recently at Charlotte for the All-Star Race, which drew widespread praise from fans. It will also be used in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Pocono and next week’s Xfinity race at Michigan.
Drivers also expressed confidence NASCAR will try it again in the Cup Series this season, perhaps even at multiple races later this summer.
But while it might make for a better show, it also brings up a major dilemma: The level of difficulty is decreased.
“We’re all race car drivers; we want to show we’re the best,” said Bell, who has won the last two Chili Bowls and last year’s Truck Series title. “You can’t (show) that when you’re not pushing the issue of the tire and you’re not grip-limited. Whenever you’re not getting the most out of your race car, it’s just a different style of racing. It almost becomes more of chess racing, so to speak.”
Wallace said he saw a post on social media that said the dream of reaching the Cup Series meant being at a superior level, and the All-Star Race felt more like jumping into a local Saturday night race. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver agreed with that assessment.
“If you had the need for speed and decent car control, anybody could have driven that,” Wallace said. “And it shouldn’t be like that when you get up to the big leagues. You know: ‘I can play with LeBron; I can match him.’”
Blaney said the cars were “a little easy to drive” in the All-Star Race and preferred it to be more challenging. Like the others, he praised NASCAR for trying to improve the racing but said changes would be needed — whether it’s more horsepower or less downforce — to keep more of an emphasis on handling.
That’s the balance that will be hotly debated in racing circles over the coming months as NASCAR tries to figure out which direction it should go. What matters more: The show or the purity of the racing?
“(The All-Star Race) was a great race, and the fans are why we’re here and why we’re allowed to be paid to be race car drivers,” Bowman said. “From that side of things, I loved it. … You have to look at what’s best for the sport, and making the race fans happy is what’s best for not only me, but everybody in this room.”
Kaz Grala, listening to Bell and fellow Xfinity driver Matt Tifft talk about their expectations for Saturday’s race with a similar package, said he was confident the racing would be entertaining.
“I’m sure it’s going to be very exciting to watch,” Grala said. “We’re all just biased because we like to have more control in our hands.”