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10/04 2018

OPINION: NASCAR’S NEW DIRECTION FOR 2019 HAS THE SAME OLD RHETORIC

 

NASCAR has decided to go all-in on a variant of the All-Star Package used in May at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.PHOTO BY MOTORSPORT IMAGE – LAT 

We’ve heard this line of reasoning before even if we’re doing the exact opposite

BY:  MATT WEAVER

We’ve heard all of this before.

Perhaps the most frustrating element of NASCAR officially moving to a low-horsepower, high-downforce drafting package is the P.R. spin of the whole thing.

It’s great that NASCAR wants to create closer on-track competition, more passing and a general sense of fun. After all, they succeeded on that front this past week with the first-ever race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

However, many of the reasons the executive types just provided for moving in this direction also echoes the motivation behind going the opposite way back in 2015 when they began to systematically lower the downforce levels at the highest rung of the sport.

Let’s check in with NASCAR vice president of competition Steve O’Donnell back in 2015.

“We’ve been very, very vigilant in talking about tighter racing,” O’Donnell said. “I think we’ve achieved that in terms of first to 43rd. You see that those teams are closer than ever, but we certainly want to see more lead changes on the racetrack.”

Oh, and this line, too.

“With lower downforce, the cars should be more difficult to handle,” O’Donnell said, “thus putting more control in the drivers’ hands.”

Since then, the racing has been hit-or-miss, but largely a hit this season on the polarizing intermediate tracks that make up way too many races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

So why is NASCAR doing this?

To put more control in the drivers’ hands, apparently.

“For us, it’s really a focus on getting back to a true focus on the drivers and what NASCAR is all about — close side-by-side racing and trying to deliver more of that.”

Even more ironic is that this line of decision-making in 2015 came at the same time NASCAR tried a high drag package at Indianapolis and Michigan.

Literally, the conclusion that NASCAR reached back then was that stock car racing was better on settings that provided more power than grip. That was decided after comparing the two head-to-head in the same season.

The NASCAR Industry, phrased that way because the owners are equally complicit in this direction, couldn’t even be bothered to truly compare-and-contrast this season, deciding after the All-Star Race that they were all in for next season and didn’t want to spend the money needed to test this package out for a few races this summer.

It used to be a joke in certain parts of the racing community that Brian France would order pack racing for Watkins Glen if he could muster it.

It doesn’t sound so far-fetched now, not that NASCAR really wants pack racing everywhere.

“Let me dispel the myth that NASCAR is interested in pack racing everywhere,” O’Donnell said on Monday.

He then went on to say that he wanted drivers to matter, with something that inched closer to pack racing, three years after saying he wanted drivers to matter with a package that was the exact opposite.

So, it’s not a myth, because even back in 2015, after a fantastic first showing for the low-downforce package at boring Kentucky Speedway, France didn’t particularly enjoy what he saw that night.

“I’ll tell you what we didn’t see what we would like to see more of is more drafting,” France said. “We didn’t see as much as we would have liked and more pack racing.”

This is the same sanctioning body that seeks the same Game 7, bottom of the ninth moment three times a race, every race and now, every lap — from Game 1 to Game 36.

In the pursuit of entertainment, no degree of sporting integrity is safe.

Maybe this will create the illusion of closer racing and maybe this will attract additional manufacturers, and maybe, just maybe, this is all just a stop-gap until NASCAR can add more short tracks and road courses.

But right now, it’s hard to take a word they say seriously, because it’s all been said before.