Low-downforce Aerodynamic Rules Package set to Debut in 2016 at AMS
NASCAR's new, low-downforce aerodynamic rules package for Sprint Cup Series cars will debut at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Feb. 28.
The racing environment at Atlanta on that date in the second week of the season - and the first non-restrictor-plate race of 2016 - has been discussed, debated, pondered and predicted since NASCAR released its plans for the new car setup last October. The one constant? It's going to be a great show.
The package, which includes a shorter 3.5-inch rear spoiler, a front leading splitter edge cut down from 2 inches to just .25 inches and a radiator pan reduced from 38 inches to 33 inches, is meant to provide decreased downforce on the car, causing less grip and forcing the driver to manipulate the car more than ever before. It is also expected to allow cars to race closer together, enable easier passing at high speeds and generally create a more competitive racing atmosphere.
Similar car setups were used at Kentucky and Darlington last season to rave reviews from both drivers and fans alike. The races were close and fun to watch for spectators, and the racing environment was a welcome change for many of the drivers.
"I think the racing will be a little bit different," said Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. "As we saw in Kentucky, the groove was a lot wider. So I think when we get to any race track … I think the groove will be a little bit wider, which will make the racing a little bit better, because we'll have more options to pass and not follow somebody. We'll see once we get to Atlanta and Vegas how we're going to be the rest of the year."
Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion was more than optimistic about the 2016 season after experiencing the similar setup at Darlington last season.
"The two races we ran with the rules package, Darlington and Kentucky, were two of the best races for Team Penske between the No. 2 and the No. 22, leading the most laps with our two cars.
"That will be the rules package for the whole season, and I am thrilled to death at that. It will put an increased level of importance on the driver to navigate cars that will just be harder to drive."
At Atlanta, the biggest changes drivers can expect to see is more off-throttle time as they enter the corners and potentially slower straightaway speeds. This will create a wider window of opportunity for passing, two- and three-wide racing and more aggressive maneuvers.
Still, no one can say for sure exactly what to expect when the green flag drops at Atlanta in just over two weeks. With its last repave more than 18 years ago, already the track's aged, worn-out surface lends itself to a slick and challenging driving experience behind the wheel. That, combined with the prospect of the new aerodynamic setup, has drivers both excited and anxious at the same time.
"Atlanta is a fun place, because of tire wear, because of low-downforce," said Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs racing and 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion. "It's going to be a crazy race. There's going to be cars sliding all over the place. It's a unique race track by itself without a low-downforce package, but it's going to be even more so this year with the way the aero rules are.
"I'm looking forward to Atlanta. I missed that race last year but was able to catch it on TV. Restarts are hectic, groove changes are crazy, and having less aero on the race car - I think - is going to lead to more driver-crew-chief-type relationships, the better ones to showcase their talents."
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the No. 78 for Furniture Row Racing and whose best race at Atlanta came in 2013 with a third-place finish, put it bluntly.
"It's going to be insane; I'll just be honest," he said. "Atlanta is the one that sticks out in my mind as what's going to be the biggest challenge with the low-downforce. Even with the high-downforce we had last year - the past two years, really - the tire fall-off there and the grip level that we had on a long run was just out of control. I mean it was insane how badly the cars drove and how loose they were. So, it's going to be worse, by far, this year. It's going to be pretty wild, and I think everybody's really looking forward to it."
Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne took a more conservative approach.
"Atlanta can be a very difficult track to get a hold on," he said. "The tires wear out very fast, which makes the cars drive worse, so you're chasing ghosts a little bit with your setup. You're trying to get a car to drive good that's never going to drive good. That's something that goes along with this rules package. The cars just don't drive as easy or as good with this rules package."
Strategy, attention to tire-wear and a well-thought-out approach, that's the name of the game for crews and drivers for what is shaping up to be a wildcard when the haulers pull into the AMS infield.
"I think you've got to be ready for change," said Austin Dillon, No. 3 driver for Richard Childress Racing. "The new package is going to be different, but you've got to be ready for that. I think that starts with the effort back in the shop - the simulation, we don't get to test as much now. I've got to be willing to change my driving style at each track to set the new rule package and make our runs good.
"Atlanta is a tough place to go to, for sure. It's one of the toughest tracks because of the way the tires fall off. Just got to study - study a lot and put that effort into it."
NASCAR racing returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway Feb. 26-28, 2016, featuring the Heads Up Georgia 250 XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series Georgia 200 doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 27 and the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, Feb. 28. For more information, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211, (877) 9-AMS-TIX or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.