Welcome my friends to the experiment that never ends, making the race at Indianapolis as interesting as possible. A race that industry insiders, media, and Indy fans consider a “Crown Jewel” race. Indianapolis is one of the most historic race venues in all of the United States of America. That is why we all strive to make the racing as legendary as the track.
Before we meddle with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cups Series, NASCAR has decided to try a very interesting experiment with the Xfinity Racing Series which you will see this weekend. It could make the racing great, but could also make it worse. The changes are various and target multiple points of the car.
1. New aero duct to keep brakes cooler, will also add some downforce.
2. A larger front splitter, will add downforce.
3. A larger spoiler, similar to last year’s, will add downforce.
4. A restrictor plate.
What the intention of all this is, to create a larger hole in the air for a bigger draft that allows the car in back to suck up and slingshot pass the front car. The theory is sound, cars should get a large speed gain behind the other car and when they pull out the drag on the front car should multiply to slow it down. This should allow the back car to pull alongside.
The restrictor plate is an interesting addition. It effectively nullifies horsepower difference. By cutting all horsepower in half even the smallest teams will be on near equal footing, similar to Daytona and Talladega when they can run with the large fully funded teams. Also, this will allow the trailing car to keep the throttle wide open and duck out at the last moment with a higher speed.
Will it work? That is the giant question now. I believe there are three possible results. Each may have an up side and a down side.
Result One. Everything goes according to plan. It is a great race, fans love it, the industry is proven right and this is applied to the Cup series. You’ll see good side by side racing, maybe even three wide racing. The slingshot returns and most every car is on equal footing. Likelihood of this happening, I would say is about 25%.
Result Two. With an aero package that we have run in past years we have a similar race to years gone by. Tedious to watch, drivers complaining they are bored. The industry scratching its head on how to make this race as legendary as this track. Fans not embracing the Indianapolis race like they should. Likelihood of this, I believe is about 35%.
Result Three. By far the most likely at 40%. Cars will be able to catch each other, bump draft and shove off into the corner. That sounds great, right? No. If you get more than a half lane out of the groove only one thing happens, you find the wall. So there’s going to be a ton of give and take, drivers are going to get out of the way and log laps. With the giant holes in the air like years past, you can catch each other. When you all have half the horsepower available, you may be able to stay near each other.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a momentum track, that has not and will not change. The secret to the track is keeping your speed up in the corners. This is actually going to be worse with restrictor plates. Plates make the throttle response a lot worse. So if the car in front of you gets into the throttle 200 feet earlier than you, they are gone. If the car ahead gets back to the throttle even 50 feet earlier, they are going to walk away.
With the high downforce package the rear car will not be able to get back to the throttle earlier. It is a near certainty. Without clean air on the nose of the car and on the splitter, the car will be aero tight, it’s going to push, when you turn the wheel left, the car will want to go straight. So, you have to back out of the throttle more and wait for the front tires to gain enough mechanical grip to turn. The trailing car is slower, it’s off throttle longer, the lead car is walking away.
Yes, you may be able to catch the car ahead, but passing will be a terrible pain. If you stay in the throttle and dive off into the corner under another car, you will have brakes to stop you, if they are operating at the right temperature. Up and down pit road teams have had brake issues with temperature all year. The Cup teams have had issues and the Xfinity teams have had issues, all of them. Now we are changing their brake cooling system for one weekend only and teams haven’t been able to test it. So brakes may have issues. They may grip too quick or may not grip enough.
There are a ton of factors here. Drivers wanted a low downforce package which created better racing, but it keeps the field separated. This new package might bring the small teams closer to level on equipment, but you still have experience. Those who figure out how to keep the throttle up through the turn will prosper in Indy, like always. That’s the name of the game, it always has been and always will be.
I believe the best drivers will find that by letting off the throttle early, staying off the brake and letting the car set early in the turn and then pick it back up will be the best. The straights need speed, whether it’s the long straights or the short chutes, top speed is king at The Brickyard. If you can get the car to turn early in Turn 1 and Turn 3 you can hold the throttle open through the short chute and through Turn 2 and Turn 4. This will maximize speed down the long straights. With the restricted engines, this will be the winning strategy.
What can be done? If you don’t have a solution, you’re just whining. What would I do? Open up the existing radiator opening, tear off splitters, minimum ride height of 4 inches, go to a very small spoiler. Allowing the engines to cool while adding drag will allow you to tuck behind another car for extended periods of time. With higher drag on the nose of a car you will get the big drafts. Small spoilers allow you to upset the aero of the car ahead of you. By lifting the front of the car up, you get air under the vehicle which also adds drag. High drag, good cooling, ill handling cars will make for a very interesting race.
Those are just my thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think!
I’ll see you in the box!