clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NASCAR Kentucky 2015 recap: New rules package creates excitement, hope

As intended, NASCAR’s new rules package produced an exciting race.

There was no one saying, "I told you so."  No gloating. After all, what was the point? Drivers had their vindication that the aerodynamic rules package they asked for, pleaded for, and all but demanded, was the jolt NASCAR needed to improve a sagging on-track product.

The evidence was unmistakable Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway: There were a track-record 22 green-flag passes for the lead and 2,665 green-flag passes throughout the field, more than doubling last year's total of 1,147. But beyond the overwhelming statistics, it was what drivers said following the Quaker State 400 that confirmed NASCAR had made the right decision in rolling out a new low-downforce aerodynamic package.

A near giddy Carl Edwards offered gushing praise for a hard-to-control car that gave the appearance that drivers were competing on a dirt track rather than a 1.5-mile oval, an improvement over past races that were tepid, uninspiring, monotonous affairs.

"I cannot say enough positive things about this direction NASCAR is going with less downforce," Edwards said. "I could actually drive the car, I was steering and sliding and I about wrecked a few times.

"I had more fun racing tonight than I had on a mile-and-a-half in a long, long time."-Carl Edwards

"I felt like I was doing something, not just sitting in line. I felt like a race car driver tonight."

For once an intermediate track race didn't feature talk about dirty air and drivers lamenting the difficulties of trying to pass. Those who had fast cars Saturday could work their way up the leaderboard even when immersed in traffic.

One of the best cars belonged to Brad Keselowski, but due to either ill-timed or mistake-filled pit stops, he found himself restarting in heavy traffic on four occasions. Yet he still had little issue clawing his way to the front, going from 12th- to second-place during one 50-lap run, and from 18th to sixth in just 15 laps during another.

"I came from two laps down, I passed a ton of cars throughout the day," said Denny Hamlin, who finished third. "And there was a pass for the lead inside of [20] laps to go. So can't really complain a whole lot, especially this is a really tough racetrack to pass on anyway."

Further evidence demonstrating the aero packages' effectiveness came in a stirring battle for the win between Joey Logano and Kyle Busch. Following a restart with 43 laps remaining, Logano jumped ahead, but slowly Busch reeled in the Team Penske driver.

When Busch caught up, Logano attempted to stymie Busch's momentum by moving up a groove and taking his rival's preferred line. Had they been using the old rules package, that tactic would've impeded Busch's run, requiring him to fall back. It's how a slower Denny Hamlin held off a faster Kevin Harvick to win the All-Star Race in May. However, with a car that put control back in the hands of drivers and no longer at the mercy of dirty air, Busch could regroup. He countered Logano's maneuver, and after some back-and-forth Busch completed the winning pass with 19 laps to go.

"I felt like it was a positive thing when I was chasing Joey down and right when I got to him, he moved up and tried to block my lane," Busch said. "With the old package you get stalled out, and get stuck behind the guy. I just moved down and went a little bit lower and got my Camry to stick and was able to power through and get back by him.

"I thought it was pretty good racing."

Busch is wrong to describe it as "pretty good racing." No, what transpired was the best of what NASCAR can offer on an intermediate track where too often the field stretches out and drivers have little difficulty keeping their cars from jumping sideways.

"This package, we need to keep going this direction," Edwards said. "We could race closer together. We were using the whole car. We just need to keep taking downforce away. It was an awesome show.

"I had more fun racing tonight than I had on a mile-and-a-half in a long, long time."

When initially conceptualized, the package was to be Kentucky-specific. NASCAR has since announced the same specifications (along with a softer tire compound) are to be utilized in September at Darlington Raceway, while a high-drag package is set for Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 26) and Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 16).

"This is what race car driving's all about," Hamlin said. "I feel like now it's back in the driver and crew chief's hands to get their car handling like it's supposed to. Not just an arms race of who build the fastest cars in the shop."

Whether a similar feeling of euphoria will follow Indianapolis, Michigan and Darlington is to be determined, but what Kentucky did was provide a blueprint. A map of how to turn a humdrum product into something stimulating that generates excitement.

"It's just one race," Hamlin said. "I think we can make it better. I think this is just a first little bits and pieces."