Hey, NASCAR, the track isn’t the problem.
It’s the dang car.
If you watched the All-Star Race last weekend – and kudos to you if you stayed awake during the last segment – you saw the same ol’ intermediate-track trope: clean air trumps all. In the final 10-lap stage of the event, Kyle Busch came off pit road in the lead and checked out on the field. Did he have the best car? Probably not, but once out front, no one was catching him.
In response to the complaints received vis-à-vis the racing in the All-Star Race, NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway have started conditioning the upper groove in the corners in advance of the Xfinity Series Hisense 300 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600. This process includes adding a traction-promoting agent (stickum) to the track and using the tire sled to add rubber into the racing groove.
The hope is to provide another lane of racing that will let drivers, you know, pass and, more importantly, pass for the lead.
“We talked through this opportunity with the track, teams, drivers and Goodyear,” said NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller. “There was agreement that this process would enhance the racing we see at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and ultimately would make for an exciting Coca-Cola 600.”
They used a similar process at Bristol earlier this year to promote a second groove. But Bristol is a much different animal at one-half mile than Charlotte at 1.5 miles. The results were so-so.
Am I the only one who remembers the “levigation” debacle at Charlotte in 2005? Prior to the Coca-Cola 600, the track decided to grind the track to smooth out some bumps. In the two races that year, there were 22 and 15 cautions, respectively. It wreaked absolute havoc on the tires. The track was repaved shortly thereafter.
The results won’t be near as drastically bad this time around, but, again, there is nothing wrong with the track. Repeat after me: It. Is. The. Car. Fix the car!
Get the nose off the ground. Get the spoiler out of the air. Get rid of the side skirts. Lose the splitter.
It’s just not racing when getting close to another car’s bumper causes your car to get so loose you wreck. Or when someone can put you into the wall merely by closing up on your bumper in the corner. Or when you can’t pass because your car gets loose when you pull up beside someone. Make the cars less aero dependent. I know I keep harping on this, but last Saturday night, NASCAR had its big spectacle with its 16-best drivers on track under the lights in its hometown. There were stages and eliminations and, heck, they even broke out tires of varying hardness, taking a page out of Formula 1’s book. And the result was crap. And it will continue to be crap until NASCAR changes the aerodynamic profile of the car so that the driver can drive it, the crew chief can make calls to impact the cars performance and crews can implement those changes.
NASCAR, this problem is fundamental. I have been around racing for a long time and appreciate the intricacies and nuances during a race that largely go unnoticed. But that race last week couldn’t hold my attention. Seriously, you’ve tried everything else — now fix the car.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly NASCAR column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.