On Thursday, NASCAR hit Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first test of the 2019 rules package.
The top end speed was less meaningful than the feel of the cars, and while it is too soon to tell, driver opinions were mixed.
“The cars seemed like they handled well,” Clint Bowyer said after the session. “Obviously a lot of wide-open throttle time, a lot of the things we knew going in. It’s going to be a work in progress how you balance that drag with downforce.
“The neat thing about what you just saw is a lot of different variations of what we can do with these race cars on the race track, whether it is pulling that drag out and making that thing ‘go cat go’ and not handling the best or go for handling.”
Fourteen cars were on hand for the test that was live-streamed on NASCAR’s You Tube channel.
In a 25-lap drafting session around the 1.5-mile track, cars stayed in contact with one another and were able to gather the momentum needed to pass without being locked into a freight train that is sometimes common on the restrictor-plate superspeedways. Drivers from modestly-funded teams seemed to be able to keep up with the marquee organizations.
Of course, this was a test and not everyone was showing their hand.
Kyle Busch was cautious about his car’s ability to pass, likening it to the bulkier, less aero-dynamic Trucks.
“It reminds me a lot of the trucks when we were with the truck race last spring with myself and Brett Moffitt,” Busch said. “We ran 1-2 and kind of drove away. We could get in a draft and kind of drive away from the rest of the field. We were the ones that weren’t lifting as much as the rest of the competition was and I had a hard time passing Brett. I couldn’t get by him. I was behind him for 30 laps and couldn’t do anything to get by him. There’s just not enough off-throttle time for handling to come into play.”
The new rules package is going to create uncertainty for fantasy owners. The potential for more cars to remain in contact deep into runs will increase the number of drivers capable of winning – at least until one of the teams achieves a breakthrough in finding the perfect handling for the new package. When that happens, look for NASCAR to change the rules again and wipe out the advantage.
“Predictions (for what the March Cup race at Las Vegas will be like) are tough especially this early,” Busch continued. “But if I had to say, ‘yeah, I think the competition is going to be closer together than what we’ve seen in years past.’ I don’t know that you’ll see a lead guy be able to stretch it out five, six, seven seconds or whatever. You might see the top three, four, maybe five guys that will kind of keep within two seconds of one another.
“As far as the racability and the maneuverability and the passing back and forth and runs and such, slingshot moves, I don’t foresee that coming. There’s not enough draft effect on the straightaways that give you enough speed to launch you into the next corner.”
For more of what Drivers Said, check out the story at NBC NASCAR Talk.