Craig Murto: Michigan was a big drag

Craig Murto

The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan last week literally was a big drag.

The high-drag, high-downforce package was tested for the second time this season, after making its debut at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis. At Indy it really didn’t seem to affect the race much; it was a typical Brickyard 400. But nobody knew what to expect at Michigan.

The big hole the cars punched in the air was supposed to create a large draft and allow for more passing. Some expected pack racing and slingshot passes such as you see at Daytona or Talladega. But that’s not what happened.

There was plenty of excitement on restarts, when cars fanned out in three- and four-wide battles for position. But it only took a few laps before the field was strung out. There were some good moments, such as side-by-side battle between Austin Dillon and Matt Kenseth for the lead that lasted two or three laps.

But for the most part the race was lackluster. Kenseth absolutely dominated, and clean air was king.

At Indy, cars that tucked up behind a car in front exacerbated whatever handling problems they suffered. If the second-place car was tight, and got too close to the lead car, it was even tighter. That issue was the same at Michigan. But Michigan’s a faster racetrack, and it appeared cars just couldn’t run well unless they were out front or changed their lines enough to get clean air.

With the low-downforce package, clean air was important, but not critical. The low-downforce package used at Kentucky allowed air to pass under the cars, which meant that the following car still had some air on the nose. Likewise, the noses aren’t planted on the ground as they are with the high-drag package, so overall the cars utilize more mechanical grip rather than depend on aerodynamics.

The low-downforce package will be seen again at Darlington for the Southern 500. It should make for a highly entertaining race, one that is more in the drivers’ hands, as even a lead car will be on the edge of mechanical grip with much less aerodynamic help.

Hopefully we’ll never see the high-drag package again. The racing suffered. If I were king I’d implement the low-downforce package for every track next season and just let them race.

Another thing I’d do if I were king is add at least one more road course to the Sprint Cup schedule and put that race in the Chase. The Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio Road Course was a thriller, with Regan Smith moving ringer Alex Tagliani on the final lap to score the win and keep his championship hopes alive. NASCAR road racing has become some of the most exciting racing they offer.

Global Rallycross competed in the RFK parking lot Saturday and Sunday. I was told Nelson Piquet Jr. got a win, but I was also told the crowd was thin. That’s a shame, as the sport is pretty exciting, and draws from a lot of disciplines. It also attracts a lot of world-class racers.

The World of Outlaws Late Models raced at Winchester Speedway last week, and Rick Eckert grabbed the win. It’s always good to see the York, Pennsylvania, racer do well, especially in this region in which he’s so popular.

Expect California racer Zane Smith to become popular. The 15 year old grabbed his third PASS South Super Late Model victory of the season Saturday night at South Boston, the only racer to win more than a single race this year. Deac McCaskill, a popular NASCAR Late Model competitor, finished second in his first Super Late Model race in more than a decade. Third went to Tate Fogleman, a third-generation racer and son of former late Model, Xfinity and Pro Cup competitor Jay Fogleman.

There’s still time to visit a local track before the 2015 racing season comes to a close. This Saturday, Winchester Speedway features the $3,000-to-win Lee Stultz Memorial race for Late Models, Hagerstown features a Small Car National Qualifier and Shenandoah features its Late Model Stock Car division.

There’s an awful lot of gray hair in the grandstands at racetracks these days, so be sure to bring your children or offer to take the neighbor’s kids to the track. Children generally love the sights and sounds of racing and really feed off the excitement they sense around them. You can help create new fans by taking a child to a racetrack.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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