Quite a few NASCAR fans think that nobody in charge at NASCAR listens to us when we complain or ask for changes. “We want better racing; more side by side tradin’ paint!” “We want more lead changes and more passing throughout the pack!” Well, I’m here to tell ya folks that they do listen. However, just like any bureaucracy, it takes time for new ideas to gain enough momentum to be put in place. They may not be changing everything we’d like to see changed, but we’re bound to see quite a bit of exciting racing next year thanks to the changes they did make.
Less Is More When It Comes to Downforce
Simply put, downforce is the amount of force generated by a vehicle as it passes through the wind. The more downforce a car generates, the easier it is to control. Generally speaking, that’s a good thing. However, downforce also generates drag, which is a bad thing. Also a bad thing, as far as NASCAR Cup drivers are concerned, is that it takes quite a bit of the control of the car out of the hands of the driver and puts it into the hands of the engineers and crew chief.
This is also bad for us as fans because it makes races less exciting. Downforce decreases the amount of “Uh-Oh” moments on the track for the driver. Watching a car rolling through a turn sideways is exciting for everyone involved. To this end, NASCAR has been experimenting with decreased downforce packages for the past couple of years at select tracks. That experimentation is now over and the changes they made this year at Kentucky and Michigan are now the rule. Aero changes for 2017 will include:
- Rear spoilers: non-restricted races will have spoilers measuring 2 3/8 by 61 inches. They are currently 3.5 by 61 inches.
- Spoilers will have a three-inch reduction in outboard area from this year.
- Cars will have a tapered rear deck fin.
The aero package introduced this year reduced downforce to about 2,000 pounds from 2,700 pounds. The package for 2017 will reduce it by another 600 pounds, delivering a net downforce in the area of 1,500 pounds.
NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development, Gene Stefanyshyn, said the reason behind this was to “take less aero dependence off the car. That’s the big thing. The amount we are taking off the front and the rear is the same proportion; we try to keep the balance of the car identical. So it’s been taken off in the same proportion to maintain the balance of the car as it was last year.”
Another, non-aero change that will be incorporated in 2017 is that the net rear steer setting will be zero. This means that the car will not help the driver enter and roll through corners. The driver has to do more of it and the cars will be less forgiving if the driver doesn’t put in the correct amount of wheel through the corner. I’m guessing this is going to give us more cars sideways through the corners, especially at the superspeedways.
Safety Innovations Always Follow Bad Accidents
It’s a given in life that major safety innovations always come about as the result of something bad happening, and NASCAR is no exception. Take the HANS (Head And Neck Support) device, for example. When it was first introduced in motorsports it was an optional piece of safety equipment. After the death of Dale Sr. at Daytona, it became a required piece of safety equipment across all of motorsports.
This year’s safety rules are no exception to this rule. In the XFINITY race at Daytona in February of 2015, we saw Kyle Busch involved in a wreck that sent him sliding nose first into one of the inner walls that didn’t have the SAFER Barrier installed yet. As a result, Busch suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg and a left mid-foot fracture.
The driver compartment of cars going to Daytona and Talladega will be strengthened. This strengthening includes thicker anti-intrusion plating in the cockpit area where it already exists. Other areas of the cockpit that currently don’t have this plating will get it. Also mandatory at the superspeedways will be the addition of toeboard foam and a roof hatch to allow drivers to escape in the event of damage preventing them from exiting through the window.
In addition to these changes, Stefanyshyn also announced that there would be changes to how the steering column is mounted. According to Stefanyshyn, “Basically…there is going to be a strengthened dash firewall; (on the) front left of the chassis there will be a piece zippered-in; also, in the back, near the rear clip, another piece will be zippered-in. The floorboard and toeboard area will be made out of one piece, beefed up also. This has a couple of elements to it; one is to manage front crash; the other to manage if you are hit in the side.”
These changes will lessen the odds of a driver in a hard impact suffering a broken limb. Weight allowances will be increased by 20 pounds next year. This increase is to accommodate the structural enhancements for safety.
Enhanced Safety and Environmental Concerns Drive Introduction of New Fuel Coupler
In a drive to decrease the amount of fuel spillage, NASCAR will also implement the use of a garage-only fuel coupler. The reasoning behind this is twofold. We’ve seen, a number of times over the past couple of years, that sparks caused by lug nuts under tires exiting the pits have created sparks causing pit road fires. With less spillage, there will be fewer pit road fires, increasing the safety of the pit crews. Less spillage also means less evaporation of spilled fuel, which is good for the environment. The new coupler has a different valve that will close more efficiently.
Other Changes for 2017
Speeds at almost every track have been increasing over the years. Fans, for the most part, love this. Drivers, however, not so much. Remember, these are the guys risking their necks for our entertainment, and they know a little more about those risks than most fans. They know that as speeds get higher, especially at the superspeedways, the odds of more wrecks like the one that saw Austin Dillon’s number 3 Chevy airborne and rolling over three lanes of traffic will become more likely. In order to bring the superspeedway speeds down a bit, the restrictor plates mandated for these tracks will be reduced in size to 7/8-inch from the current size of 57/64-inch.
Tires are another area that NASCAR is looking to change. The truck and XFINITY Series both have had limitations on the number of tires that teams had available throughout a race. The Cup Series hasn’t had this limitation. However, there have always been tires left over after races. Because of this, and to introduce an element of strategy into tire usage, NASCAR will begin limiting the number of tires that teams can use throughout a race. Teams will also have to start the races on the tires they used during qualifying.
What do you think of these rules changes? Do you think they’ll make Cup races more exciting next year? There’s no doubt the safety changes will make the cars safer, but do you think that knowing they’re less likely to get hurt badly enough to miss races will make drivers take more chances to pass/win, making the races more exciting?