As NASCAR’s 2019 car rules are slowing cars down at intermediate tracks, the rules combination at shorter tracks could end up making lap times faster.
NASCAR cut horsepower from 750 to 550 at all oval tracks over 1.3 miles in length. But 750 horsepower remains at road courses and short tracks. Add that consistent horsepower to the increased downforce on the cars with bigger splitters and spoilers, and expect some records to be challenged, if not obliterated, over the weekend at ISM (formerly Phoenix) Raceway.
“I don’t think people realize how fast Bristol, Dover and even the short tracks are going to be with the added downforce,” Kevin Harvick said at Daytona 500 media day. “It is an extreme amount of downforce compared to what we have had in the past. Really, the first half of the season is going to be 100-percent a learning curve of trying to figure out what you need and where you need to go with it.”
Harvick is the favorite at Phoenix on Sunday. He’s won nine races at the track.
The increased downforce has inflated corner speeds at Atlanta and Las Vegas as straightaway speeds have decreased. Because of the combination of air ducts and reduced horsepower, drivers were flat on the gas when they were by themselves at Vegas.
Lap times as Vegas, however, were slower unless cars were drafting because of the slower straightaway speeds. At tracks a mile or shorter like ISM, cars aren’t at or near top-end speeds nearly as long. And while those top-end speeds will be slightly slower because of the increased downforce on the cars, the increased corner speeds could make up the speed gap and then some. Especially at high-speed shorter ovals like Bristol and Dover.
Will NASCAR’s rules changes vastly change the racing that you see on Sunday? If Atlanta and Las Vegas are any indication, the changes fans visually see will be relatively slight, even if drivers are having to completely change the way they attack the unique oval.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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