Gluck: NASCAR should take 2016 direction from Darlington – USA TODAY
DARLINGTON, S.C. –Â As was the case after the July debut of NASCARâs low-downforce rules package at Kentucky Speedway, the reactions to how the cars performed Sunday night at Darlington Raceway featured the kind of rave reviews that belonged on a movie poster.
âI love the package.â â Dale Earnhardt Jr.
âThatâs the way racing is supposed to be. It was a lot of fun today.â â Denny Hamlin.
âIt separates the race car drivers from the pretenders, and that’s the way it should be.â â Brad Keselowski.
Of course, there was no bigger fan of the rules package than race winner Carl Edwards, who had spent the last few years stumping for officials to move in this direction and then went out and won the Southern 500 when they did.
âI believe itâs pretty obvious it races really well, and itâs fun to do and fun to watch,â Edwards said. âFor me as a race car driver, thatâs the stuff I dream about — 25 laps to go in the Southern 500, Iâm racing with two champions, weâre swapping the lead back and forth. And I think youâre able to do that because thereâs less aerodynamic influence and the tires fall off.â
In its second test, the low-downforce rules package passed by creating passing.
VIDEO: Brad Keselowski on the low-downforce package
Yes, the Southern 500 was a grueling marathon and a caution fest (a track record 18 flew)Â that lasted more than four and a half hours â longer than the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest mileage race. But it also was a very entertaining race that featured tight battles for the lead and the kind of tire falloff that helped NASCAR rise to popularity in the first place.
Thatâs exactly what the sport needed â confirmation the package is indeed the right direction to go after Kentucky already wasÂ a major success.
âItâs the package we need to run from now on,â Hamlin said.
Unfortunately, the rules package will disappear for now â despite Edwardsâ plea for NASCAR to use it in the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup. NASCAR executive vice president Steve OâDonnell said the softer tire used at Darlington should be considered part of the package â and the tire lineup already is set for the Chase. Officials told teams last month the 2015 rules package would be used in the Chase, no matter what happened Sunday.
It’s somewhat of a letdown, considering the tantalizing possibilities of great racing after entertaining shows at Kentucky and Darlington.
But at least there seems to be immense momentum to make the low-downforce package the norm for 2016 (OâDonnell said a decision could be made by the end of the month).
The thoughts of moving toward the high-drag direction â which NASCAR initially preferred â seems preposterous. The biggest question now is whether drivers can keep pushing NASCAR to make changes.
âI think the general consensus among all of the drivers is we would like to start with this (package in 2016) and possibly try to get even more downforce off the cars,â Jamie McMurray said.
In Edwardsâ mind, nothing short of the sportâs future is riding on what happens next.
âI really think weâre at a bigger crossroads than most people realize,â Edwards said. âI think this is an opportunity for the sport to go one of two directions. (NASCAR) can go the direction of making the sport competitive because the cars are easy to drive and everyoneâs car is about the same and we can basically have Talladega every week.
âOr they can go the direction of making the cars extremely hard to drive and going the direction of showing the massive talent of the drivers, the crew chiefs and the pit crews. I hope they take the latter. I hope they keep going this direction.â
Thatâs absolutely what needs to happen, and everyone now seems to know it.
Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck
PHOTOS: 2015 Sprint Cup race winners