Recent developments at Charlotte and Indy could boost downforce argument

Carl Edwards is gone from NASCAR, and one of his core philosophies may soon be following him out the door: Less downforce makes for better racing.

There was no topic on which Edwards was more outspoken than when it came to extolling the virtues of a lower downforce package. Take downforce away, Edwards reasoned, and drivers would have to lift more in the corners because the cars would be more difficult to handle. As a result, passing would increase.

“Some people want to see guys race spoilers and splitters and wings and downforce and side force, but they aren’t stock car racing fans,” Edwards said in 2015. “(High downforce) is just not stock car racing.”

At the time Edwards said that, NASCAR was starting to listen. Officials ultimately scrapped their plans for a high drag package and went the direction the drivers wanted after it showed potential in an experimental Kentucky race.

Here’s the thing, though: Once that became the package, it didn’t work how everyone expected.

The racing, particularly at intermediate tracks, still isn’t where NASCAR wants it to be. That’s why officials have been looking at other options, such as package NASCAR tried at the All-Star Race (which was popular with fans).

While the merits of turning Cup into a restrictor-plate series are up for debate, NASCAR might have the right idea in trying to add more downforce instead of take it away.

Look no further than Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 for evidence. In the last six years, the Indy 500 had averaged 43.6 lead changes. This year, there were 30.

While that’s not bad at all compared to the previous decades (when the race mostly had lead changes numbered in the teens), it’s still a step back for what had become the best racing on the biggest stage.

And the drivers knew it. After the race, they made comments about “track position” and “dirty air.” That probably sounds familiar to NASCAR fans.

So what happened? Well, IndyCar has a new car this year — one that has been universally praised on the road courses and street circuits. It looks sharp, races well and is cost effective.

But the car has less downforce than the previous version, and drivers struggled with handling as a result.

“More downforce,” Alexander Rossi said afterward. “We need more, man. This car looks great. The road course car is fantastic, but it’s pretty hard to pass around here.”

It was still possible to pass at times — Rossi himself proved that — but it took heroic, ballsy moves that could only be accomplished on restarts when the cars got bunched together. Otherwise, they were too far strung out for the slingshot passes that became a signature of the recent Indy 500 races.

“The old car, you couldn’t really get rewarded by getting away or getting separation,” Indy 500 runner-up Ed Carpenter said. “I think if you have a good enough car (in the new package), you’re rewarded by being able to get away a little bit.”

Carpenter was saying that in a positive manner, because he thought it was better that way. When it’s challenging for the drivers, the top talents prefer it because they feel like they have an advantage. The harder it is, the better for them.

But for the rest of us, here’s what it comes down to: Would you prefer to see the elite drivers and teams be able to use their skill and speed to outrun everyone at the expense of a good show? Or are you hoping to see passing and side-by-side battles and exciting racing, even if that makes it harder to separate the best from the average?

When it comes to the Indy 500, I would personally rather see a crazy passing fest with drafting and all sorts of wild moves. Those cars are dangerous enough that it feels like the drivers are daredevils on four wheels, so it’s fine with me if making moves becomes easier again.

But in NASCAR, I’m still torn. Even though NASCAR has gimmicked-up other parts of the racing (stages) and season (elimination playoffs), watching an unrestricted race still feels pure enough to be a true competition of the best. That feeling doesn’t extend to Daytona and Talladega — even the drivers don’t view it as “real racing” — so what would everyone think about an entire series with a bunched-up field and the possibility of more random results?

On the other hand, these are desperate times. Perhaps something that extreme is needed. If it doesn’t work, NASCAR can’t shed fans and viewers any faster than it already is…right?

Perhaps focusing purely on entertainment is for the best. Feed the masses what they seem to want and throw a Hail Mary at rejuvenating the sport in the process.

I wasn’t convinced after the All-Star Race’s high drag and downforce package, despite the entertainment value. After seeing the Indy 500 take a step backward after the cars were harder to handle, maybe it’s an indication more downforce is the way to go in racing.

27 Replies to “Recent developments at Charlotte and Indy could boost downforce argument”

  1. The problem low down force is being made up for int he form of the significant amount of side force the gen 6 car has. the offset rear bumper and super low rear quarter panels still significantly hamper the “low down force” package. Narrow up the rear bumper and center it on the race car, remove the lower 3″ of the rear bumper. use the same contour from the drivers side of the car on the passenger side of the car. you will have then knocked significant counts of side force out of the car. the corner speeds would be reduced signification at that point. maybe 5 to 10 MPH. and a car is less air dependent on air at 160 then it is at 170. If they had all the HP back that number would increases because the throttle response effects handling so much that it reduces speeds though the center of the turn. (that’s why a car on 7 cylinders can pass a car on 8 though the turns like the 12 did to the 22 Sunday) the sad part is this has been tested, the drivers all said it was the best package at that time and NASCAR still went the reduced HP rout. I get the cost savings part, but its the premier series. give them the power until a new engine is developed.

    the last thing i’ll say is the best package this car had was the high down force high HP of a few years ago. drivers could put a car anywhere and pass with out the worry of losing it. the racing was at its best them

    1. “We need to attack sideforce” is the same argument for the 5&5 Rule and there is NO example anywhere for the concept. The throttle response argument gives away the fraudulence of the larger argument – to work lower downforce is dependent on the drivers doing exactly what the 5&5 Rule’s advocates think they will. The reality is that never happens; corner speeds were never reduced by lower downforce because the idea depended on drivers lifting for the corners and lifting is NOT and never will be racing.

      “This has been tested and the drivers all said it was the best package.” That didn’t happen – they did test the concept but like always the low downforce concept did nothing. The restrictor plate-draft duct package has now raced at two different speedways and produced more passing as a result – because it attacks the real issues stifiling passing – excessive horsepower and dirty air preventing passing instead of opening it up.

      1. It was tested, in August 2014 Michigan. They had 6 -15 lap heat races just like the Charlotte test of 13. Maybe you should look it up. NASCAR has continuously been testing many body configurations last three years including the reduced side force car that I’ll make up the next generation body these teams will use

  2. Indy is Indy. Let’s see how the new Indy races at Texas. Honestly, I think folks are confusing downforce with drag.
    We can put drag on these cars without adding downforce (or adding little.)
    Add splitter stops (round pieces of metal bolted to underside of splitter) to get the cars off the ground just a fudge.
    Keep the air ducts but direct air onto tires and breaks. (Ducts handed out by NASCAR)
    And make a rule that not tape can be on the grille during the race.

    More drag, and less downforce. Now the lead car is having to push more wind while not being stuck to the track; helping the 2nd place guy whose losing downforce but not break as much wind.

    Add a little power back by opening up the tapered spacer at all tracks 1.5 miles of less so that cars have around 825-850 hp. Horse power gives driver more response and options; while also being fools gold because you can burn your stuff up during a run. I think the top of the track would be easier to run at more track with more power to carry you around and off the corner; places like Charlotte and Chicago, without having to add VHT.

    There’s a lot more good to get out of a low downforce package that frankly I think is still working. It’s not like it was when it’s new but I will agree with anyone the racing is the best it’s been in 15-20 years with what we have. The big tracks have never been barn burners, but now drivers can pass again at most of them if they are faster.

    I think IMS is the outlier where ton of downforce with big drag may be the answer. And that has to do with the uniqueness of flat 90 degree corners and super long straits.

    I am now at a point where I fear that we are going to greatly move away from what has created the ability to pass and put on good race.. as stated IMO the best in somewhere between 15-20 years.

    I was at the All*Star Race and it was very entertaining and a good race, but I say enough evidence that I don’t think we will see that kind of racing in long distance races; and when teams get a hold of it, even the teams are saying that the racing won’t look like that.
    After 15ish laps the field started to break apart, and when it did and the energy was gone it was very difficult to pass. I think we see that in the future and it may end up being closer to 10 laps for the pack to break up when teams start trimming cars out and working on things.

    1. Why not just dump the splitter in favor of a valence? I agree that one of the issues is the front ends being glued to the track, but the splitter is an aero sensitive piece. At least more so than a valence would be. We started hearing more and more about dirty air with the introduction fo the COT.

      Not saying you’re wrong at all, I think I’d just change that one piece. Your changes, plus a valence and allowing teams more play in the mechanical grip realm would greatly benefit the racing. The low downforce has been best and they need to keep building off of that. The last thing we need is that high-drag/high-downforce crap they ran at Michigan and Indy in 2015, and I think that’s what the All-Star package was moving toward.

  3. Motorsport was never meant to be a show. It was meant to be competition.

    It is meant to reward innovation, talent and execution.

    Its origins were not based on popularity, safety or sponsorship.

    Talent should be allowed to flourish and distinguish itself, not be penalized for the sake of appeasing and empowering the average.

    1. All true statements. But I don’t know of anyone willing to race out of their own pocket in a series that cost $20-25 million a season to be competitive, so they kinda need to entertain people and earn some sponsorship dollars.

  4. I watch just about every race and would stop for a season of the allstar pkg. I didn’t like it. Slower cars with less downforce, no splitters, no side skirts. You can take power away without the garbage restrictor plate. If you want to make a series of random finishes based 70% luck, with a bunch of guys floored the whole time try the Xfinity series, it has nothing to lose anyway.

    1. 100%. I was saying this the other day. I’ve watched this sport my entire life and I would quit if they ran that junk again. It was entertaining, but it couldn’t fool my brain into thinking it was racing.

  5. The All-Star Race was an illusion of excitement. There were lead changes, but there was no passing for other positions. In the last 10 laps, Harvick stretched his lead to .5 seconds and never looked back. That to me is no different than Busch having a 6 second lead at the end of the 600 other than the *illusion* that someone could’ve caught Harvick.

    I think the answer is a return to the GEN4 car. Surely, there’s a way for NASCAR to take all their safety advancements and roll them into that type of body. Maybe the big spoiler back then created a lot of downforce, I’m not really old enough to know, but the cars had more suspension travel and they were hard to drive and they were able to drive side by side. Creating more aero grip means having more aero-sensitive pieces on the cars that will perpetuate the complaints of dirty air.

    If fans can’t accept that not every race isn’t going to end in a last lap pass, maybe it’s time for the sport to die. I wasn’t a fan of watching Busch lead almost every lap, but at the end of the day, that’s the product you see at a local track. Thankfully, Fox did a better job of showing the action that was going on from 4th or 5th to 15th. That made the 600 more enjoyable than watching 2 high-speed parades.

    1. You’ve got a couple good thoughts in here, including:

      “I think the answer is a return to the GEN4 car. Surely, there’s a way for NASCAR to take all their safety advancements and roll them into that type of body.”
      Great idea – test the current car, safety wise, with body work that more closely resembles the prior generation car. See how it works. There are things that could be done, and that are worth trying and testing.

      And this:
      “If fans can’t accept that not every race isn’t going to end in a last lap pass, maybe it’s time for the sport to die. I wasn’t a fan of watching Busch lead almost every lap, but at the end of the day, that’s the product you see at a local track. ”

      Agreed – not every race is going to be a last lap pass for the win. I also watch the Outlaws, and Schatz wins the most and leads a ton of laps, yet people still like watching that because there’s passing for positions further back. And occasionally, there are fantastic finishes on the last laps. Not every race can be that way.

      1. Exactly. I thought Fox did a great job showing the battles for positions 7-16 all night. I knew Busch was killing everyone, I didn’t need to keep watching that. Television could do a better job broadcasting the racing that goes on midpack, showing it more often when the leader checks out and only using 4 or 5 cameras instead of 10 so my brain can comprehend what’s happening.

  6. The All-Star race and Open were exciting because they were short, and because winning was all that really mattered. No points on the line. If you put that same package into a 500 mile race, it wont be the same. Drivers won’t take risks like they would in the Open. They won’t be nearly as aggressive as they were, and we’ll likely end up watching four hours of follow the leader with a potentially good finish. I’m not sure that’s what people really want. For me, the biggest problem that NASCAR currently has is its schedule. Everyone knows it, everyone says it: we need more short tracks, and not just a few. We need a lot more. We’d like a couple more road courses too. We need a massive schedule overhaul; probably a bigger overhaul than NASCAR would ever give us. A package similar to the All-Star race may get us by for a couple years, but we’re going to need a real fix.

  7. Jeff, I still think lower downforce and more HP is the way to go. There are ways to do this without driving up costs. Splitter and side skirts need to go. Nobody likes them!! Also as mentioned above the contour of the left and right side should match. NASCAR should limit amount of aero-force teams are allowed to apply to the racecars. The teams can chose how and where to apply it, but they cannot exceed the limit. Here is what happens over time is the engineers figure out how to add aero-force while also limiting the amount of drag the car produces. This is why the car front has such an advantage. Where NASCAR is missing the mark still is that the ratio of aeroforce outweighs mechanical grip and drag.

    While we are discussing what Indy does well. I love their approach to engines. Let’s modernize the engines, NASCAR is still way behind here. I also like how the manufacturers supply the engines. I think it enhances the Chevy vs Honda conversation that happens at Indy.

    Qualy at Indy also holds the secret for NASCAR. Hinch missed the show and created a lot drama during qualy, but the show did not suffer because he missed the show. Not having a guaranteed starting spot is critical to racing. Plus this also helps with the cars who can’t get through inspection. If you don’t qualify, you don’t race.

    My last thought because it feels appropriate here, but NASCAR should evaluate what some of the other series are doing. I really like what sportscar racing is doing. The cars there are able to nose to tail. I feel like I see a lot of passing for the lead, and the cars actually look like the cars on the street. Maybe their concept of BoP should be considered? Make the cars less like IROC and more like the street versions.

    1. You come up with how you to limit and enforce a maximum count of down force rule and you sir will be a billionaire.

  8. NASCAR needs at least two more full length races on this package or variation of it before moving to it for a large number of races in 2019. Hopefully they can get the teams to do it for at least 2 of these this year (Indy, 2nd Pocono, 2nd Texas, 2nd Kansas).

    Fast Forwarding to this without the tweaking needed before 2019 major rollout would be a mistake.

  9. Speaking for myself, as just one fan, if they made every single 1.5 mile track a restrictor plate track, I’d quit watching, at least on those tracks. I can handle it at Talladega and Daytona, and could consider it for Indy because it worked well there with Xfinity cars, but that’s about it. There has to be something that can be worked out with the cars, to allow for easier passing and less aero sensitivity on 1.5 mile tracks. And, not all of them are “bad” or “boring”. Why not allow the teams to adjust spoiler angles/height as they see fit within a range? Also, it used to be they could add/remove tape on the front to modify downforce a little. Why not go back to that more?

    1. They still add/remove tape on the grille. I think you hear about it less because teams have figured out how much they can run and no more. Later in the race when it starts to cool down, you’ll still see tape pieces added occasionally.. but also with one less man on pit road it becomes harder to add or take away tape without loss of time.

  10. I have so much fatigue from every race being dissected like this. Some races are gonna be lousy, just like some NFL/NBA/MLB games are blowouts. But all the series have put themselves in this gray area between run-what-you-brung and full spec cars, where no cars are allowed to be great and cars that stink get assistance. The TV ratings show that people have no patience for this anymore. Just bring back IROC and let the drivers be the story or allow full innovation and let the chips fall where they may. Otherwise you’re chasing your tail forever.

  11. One thing to keep in mind and it was said in the article but not actually addressed is the Indy car is new. How many ovals had it raced on before Indy?
    The teams will likely figure out a better package for handling going forward on the other ovals so comparing the two is “fools gold” as well.
    Still think NASCAR would be better served by getting rid of the front end and having the cars look more like the street rods of the 80’s. Never heard the term aero push until mid-later 90’s when the cars starting having the front air dams and pushing the air around the side versus it going underneath.

  12. Drag and downforce are two different things. You can add drag without adding downforce, although you cannot add downforce without adding drag. I think part of the success of the allstar package was the addition of drag without added downforce. In my opinion as a mechanical engineer and race fan is that the cars need a combination drag and low downforce to put a greater emphasis on mechanical grip and less emphasis on aero. That will tend to equalize the teams. Horsepower can be reduced without resorting to restrictor plates. Reduce the displacement of the engines, limit valve size, and limit rpms. Then open up the rules to allow teams to use springs, shocks, gear ratios, transmissions and chassis design however they see fit – within reason. At the same time, I would recommend going to a simple chin spoiler and fin spoiler – and let the teams adjust the height and angle of both with a maximum height for both spoilers. This would let teams tune cars at the tracks – even adjusting spoilers during pitstops like they did in the 80’s – and would tend to equalize competition without excessive gimmickry.

  13. You will never satisfy everyone. Plain and simple. Get the cars off the track and thin out the rule book. Specify wheelbase, engine block size, fuel tank capacity,and let them build a race car.

  14. As a fan of racing for over 30 years, and having raced on both dirt and asphalt with some level of success….. I have to say, the recent package that is being offered is not “racing”…. its become more “staged excitement/entertainment”.

    If NASCAR wants to develop driver “personalities”, how about showcasing their skills as opposed to how the “near-spec” car performs. The veterans have the experience to take what is given them and make things happen. Kevin and Kyle and a few others demonstrate that,… and with the science applied to the cars they pilot, cream rises to the top.

    I agree with some of the comments here about all the tweaks that have been put forth, along with the specific tire compounds for each race, that dilute the sport of COMPETITION.

    My suggestions for discussion are these: remove the splitter, add a valence, raise the car another 2 inches, tighten up the body centering, lower the spoiler another inch, restrictor plates for only Talladega/Daytona, and give a choice between two types of compound which will be used through out the season for all tracks. (Goodyear are you listening?)

    Like many fans of the sport, I’m discouraged by the decline and hope that whoever buys NASCAR, listens to our voices, and corrects the mistakes of the past to preserve the future.

  15. “I wasn’t convinced after the All-Star Race’s high drag and downforce package, despite the entertainment value. ”

    After the snoozefest that was the Coke 600, the All-Star package is coming sooner rather than later. I would start getting convinced.

  16. When one makes the argument that restrictor plate draft/pack racing produces “random results,” then we need specific examples of drivers who won based entirely on “randomness” instead of because THEY made moves to win. “Random results” means a driver is thrown AGAINST HIS WILL into the lead – which of course does not exist.

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