If Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was any indication, there’s still a lot of work remaining to make cars better for racing on the faster intermediate tracks.
And it’s clear drivers really have their hands full keeping their cars under control.
“ It was tricky. It was very tough to move around and very tough to pass cars,” Joey Logano said after finishing fourth Sunday. “Whenever I passed one I felt like I deserved a trophy because it was so hard.”
NASCAR eased restrictions for the front bumper area to allow teams to get the front of the car as low to the ground as possible. That was supposed to provide more front-end traction and reduce instability in traffic.
Compared to other races at the 1.5-mile track in Las Vegas, it wasn’t any different. Traffic quickly spread out with signification gaps between each car.
A year ago there were 22 lead changes among eight drivers in the 267-lap race. On Sunday, there were 21 changes among 10 drivers.
Brad Keselowski won the race with a last-lap move. His pass of Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t the product of good side-by-side racing. It came when Earnhardt’s car ran out of gas less than a mile from the finish line.
“Yeah, I mean, it's just a common theme throughout American motorsports,” Keselowski said. “The cars continue to get harder and harder to drive in traffic as they make more downforce and as the engineers and all those guys continue to really hone in on these cars and find ways to make them create more downforce. It’s something that’s happening through all of motorsports, not just NASCAR. You’re seeing the same thing in F1 and beyond.”
Keselowski has been patient with NASCAR continual tweaking of the rulebook. Although he won Sunday, he couldn’t ignore the obvious – the current style isn’t compelling.
“It’s making it very difficult to drive the cars in traffic, and it makes the cars very easy to drive by themselves,” he said. “It’s just part of the evolution of racing, and maybe not necessarily what we want to see happening from a fan perspective, but it’s just where the competitors are taking the racing.
“We’ll see where that goes from here.”
“ Just the air is so dirty behind everybody, the further back you get you’ve got less and less grip,” he said. “Once we got the lead, it was like driving a Cadillac.”
The Sprint Cup Series moves to the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway next Sunday. Unlike the bigger, faster tracks, aerodynamics isn’t critical at the short track – which really puts success back in the hands of the drivers.