When NASCAR unveiled the 2020 racing package for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it was met with some criticism. The announcement said that there would be only small tweaks to the on track product between this year and next.
See, some fans weren’t too fond of that. While the racing has been an overall improvement this year compared to the year’s past, what we’ve seen on tracks that are one mile and length and shorter still have some work to do.
Kyle Larson leads William Byron and Bubba Wallace during Sunday’s Cup race at Dover
It used to be short tracks producing the best racing. Instead, night races on 1.5-mile tracks in fact have. The proof is in the pudding. Sunday’s race at the Dover International Speedway is a prime example of this.
The stats read 14 lead changes – but most of those were during green flag pit sequences. We saw three cautions on the entire day, two of which being for stage breaks and the other on Lap 7 for debris. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson combined to lead 372 of the 400 laps run.
In the May race at Dover, Truex and Chase Elliott combined to lead 277 of the 400 that day. Furthermore, the top five finishers in the spring race led 290 of the 400 laps. The same top four finishers in May were the ones taking the top four spots on Sunday.
The Spring race read – Truex-Bowman-Larson-Harvick as the top four.
Sunday’s race read – Larson-Truex-Bowman-Harvick as the top four.
“Tough to pass” was the comment theme out of the drivers’ mouths after the race ended.
“It’s just really hard to pass and it took a while for the track to widen out,” said third place finisher Alex Bowman.
“Once we lost control – lost the clean air – it was so difficult to pass,” said fifth place finisher Denny Hamlin who led a race high 218 laps on Sunday. “I needed to be up front with as tight as my car was.”
“The car was really fast,” said seventh place finisher Matt DiBenedetto. “Even faster than seventh-place, but you get in situations with the dirty air and with the high downforce it was a lot harder to pass. The fastest drivers had to be a lot more disciplined. You had to stay behind them and not abuse your stuff and wait for traffic or situations to pounce.”
“When we were in clean air, our lap times were great,” Jimmie Johnson said, who also finished eighth. “Just as everyone experienced, it was really tough to pass. We had a few things that set us back and lost track position throughout the day. But we had a really fast race car. We were able to pass some, which I don’t think many could pass at all.”
“We started 17th and finished 10th, I don’t know,” said 10th place Clint Bowyer. “It was hard to pass. Extremely hard to pass. Almost impossible. You had to have a really, really good car. It was just kind of a struggle out there all day long for us.”
“It was very hard to pass today at Dover,” said Daniel Suarez.
“I had a difficult time passing cars, especially in traffic,” said Austin Dillon.
They’re right. The eye test showed a lot of single file running with the difficulty to pass at an all time high. It happened at Phoenix, another one-mile track, back in March too. Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney combined to lead 291 of 312 laps that day. Furthermore, four of the top five finishers that day led 304 of the 312 laps run. Stats show 17 lead changes but again, most were on green flag pit sequences.
New Hampshire, a one-mile track, had 14 lead changes but between Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, they led all but 29 laps that July day.
One mile tracks aren’t producing on track lead changes, they’re producing some dominating runs instead.
Richmond and Martinsville, tracks shorter than one mile in lenghth did too. In the spring race at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway, Brad Keselowski led 446 of 500 laps. Second place finisher Chase Elliott led 49 of 500 laps himself. Between them, that’s 495 of 500 laps led. Joey Logano led the other five laps in a four lead change race.
Richmond’s spring race saw eight lead changes. The top eight finishers led all 400 laps with Truex Jr. and Busch leading 287 of the 400 laps.
The playoff Richmond race saw Truex, Busch and Keselowski lead all 400 laps in a six lead change race.
Bristol is the lone exception. There were 21 lead changes in April and 23 more in August. That’s an anomaly.
So, why is passing on these tracks so hard?
Well, with a high downforce package, the cornering speeds are higher. There’s less time off the throttle. Drivers are nearly flat out through the turns which means it’s hard to pass when you’re going the same speed.
Also, factor in the dirty air in wake with the large spoiler throwing dirty air on the front end of the cars behind and you get follow the leader racing.
How can you pass when the front end is either too tight or too loose? How can you close in when you and the car in front are going the same speed anyways?
That’s why the on track product with this package is hurting the racing.