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Everything We Learned From NASCAR’s Short Track Package Test

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NASCAR finished up their much anticipated short track aero package test at Richmond on Tuesday. The test got a lot of people talking, but it was not all positive. What did we learn from this short track test?

What were they testing?

NASCAR was looking at ways to improve the racing on short tracks. The short track racing product has not been received well by fans for the most part since the advent of the Next-Gen car. NASCAR debuted a new short track package beginning at Phoenix this year, but the results have not been quite as good as some hoped.

This test, which was originally scheduled for after the New Hampshire race before being postponed by rain, tested major aero changes, including a new splitter. This splitter was designed to create “lift,” therefore impeding the downforce of the leading car while increasing downforce for those behind.

NASCAR tested the new splitter with multiple different aero packages. This included differences in height of the rear spoiler and even completely removing the rear diffuser. NASCAR also spent Tuesday testing multiple different tire compounds.

These aero changes sound great, but did they get the results they were hoping for? The comments of those involved in the test were mixed.

What did the drivers and NASCAR have to say?

Bob Pockrass was on hand at the test, and he was able to get comments from both drivers and NASCAR about how the test seemed to go. The general consensus amongst drivers was that the test on Monday did not seem to make a big difference in terms of difficulty to drive in traffic. Noah Gragson specifically commented on how difficult it still was to pass and how different his car between running up front and running in the back.

The Gragson comments are probably the most disappointing because he mentions that the very thing the aero changes were meant to solve were not solved. He drove better up front than he did in traffic, and it was still incredibly hard to pass. Bob Pockrass even said that the leader for the mock races NASCAR did on Monday was generally able to stay up front.

Gragson was not the only one to comment, as NASCAR’s VP of Vehicle Performance, Eric Jacuzzi, also had comments about how the test went on Monday.

Long story short, he said the drivers felt the change was “Not enough.” He even acknowledged that the test wasn’t a “grand slam.” Not only are the drivers feeling the issues, but NASCAR was seeing it and listening to it as well.

On Tuesday, NASCAR made some changes including changing the height of the rear spoiler and removing the diffuser. Most notable, however, was how they changed the tire compounds. Pockrass and the media once again caught up with Gragson at the end of the test, and Gragson gave his thoughts.

While Gragson reiterates that the splitter did not seem to make the impact NASCAR wanted, the tire and removal of the rear diffuser seemed to show some of what the drivers wanted to see. He mentioned how drivers could move around more thanks to the lack of a rear diffuser.

In terms of tires, he particularly liked the last tire that NASCAR ran on, which was what Gragson called “thicker.” He enjoyed racing with those tires, and he even complimented how much easier it was to follow with those tires.

You really had to search around and find where your car was good. You could follow pretty well. Tucked up right behind somebody felt a little bit more like super late model short track racing where you could stay right behind a guy and kind of move him up out of the way and drive underneath him.

Noah Gragson

There was a positive, then, for NASCAR to take from this test. The tire testing they did seemed to get the reaction that drivers were hoping for. The aerodynamics, however, still left a lot to be desired, and NASCAR still seems to have work to do on that side.

Where does NASCAR go from here?

NASCAR has already made some decisions on how they’re going to use the data learned from this test. Kelly Crandall reports that NASCAR received positive feedback about lack of a rear diffuser, and they will test this package at the Indianapolis oval.

Obviously, NASCAR liked what they saw from the tires and some of the aero changes they made to the car on day two. Maybe these changes could also help on the bigger tracks as well. Passing on a single groove track with the Next-Gen car has been very difficult, and maybe this offered a solution to it.

However, it did not seem to solve everything in terms of the short track package. Christopher Bell even commented after day one that Richmond may not have been the best race track to test this package at. The reasoning being that Richmond is a lower grip track than a place like Martinsville or Phoenix.

[Richmond] is so slick that you’re naturally going to get spread out because you’re sliding around like crazy. All six of us are complaining about being sideways loose. The tracks that we complain about the aero package are places that are high grip like Phoenix, Martinsville, Loudon would have been better than here for sure, but Phoenix, Martinsville are two of the worst because we have a lot of grip in them, and we’re struggling because we’re tight in traffic.

Christopher Bell via Adam Cheek on Twitter

This raises the question about whether or not NASCAR should continue testing the short track package beyond this one. Maybe testing at Phoenix once again during the offseason would be a good idea, especially considering that Phoenix is the Championship race. Martinsville is the last race before the Championship four, so those two tracks are critical for NASCAR to get right.

The question will also come up about whether or not NASCAR should just add more horsepower. Even Eric Estepp pointed out in the most recent Out of the Groove that NASCAR should consider just biting the bullet and adding more horsepower on short tracks. Eric specifically pointed out Denny Hamlin as someone who tweeted about what NASCAR could do, and at the top of his list was adding more horsepower.

Is it time for NASCAR to finally make the horsepower change happen? The positive feedback on Monday may hold that off just a little bit longer, but, if the same problems continue, NASCAR may have to. Short track racing truly is what sets NASCAR apart from other motorsports.

Formula One is not racing at Martinsville and IndyCar is not racing at Bristol. NASCAR need to find a way to fix this, or, they lose a key part of what makes NASCAR, NASCAR.

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Joshua Lipowski

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