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Craig Murto: Ban wind tunnel testing

NASCAR continues to experiment with different aerodynamic packages in order to come up with the best product for race fans.

Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in Michigan used a high-downforce package much like the one used by the Cup Series in the all-star race at Charlotte. It slowed the cars to about 175 mph, but allowed cars to draft and run three and four wide.

There are Cup drivers actively lobbying NASCAR to not run this package in the Cup Series. Brad Keselowski made comments that the cars are too easy to drive, and the best drivers won’t come to NASCAR. Of course, many argue that the best drivers don’t come to NASCAR anyway. But as long as NASCAR drivers make more money in the United States than other racers, drivers will come to NASCAR.

Personally, I think NASCAR needs to go in the opposite direction and get rid of the aerodynamic dependency. Get rid of the splitters in front, get rid of the side skirts, make the spoiler in the rear small and get the cars at minimum 4 inches off the ground. If the cars aren’t glued to the track aerodynamically, drivers will have to drive, they’ll have to get off the throttle in the corners.

Regardless whether they ultimately choose a high-downforce package or a low-downforce body template, it won’t matter as long as teams can go into the wind tunnel with their expensive engineers and find ways within the rules to maximize performance aerodynamically.

This is why rule changes cost the big teams huge sums of money. If NASCAR banned wind tunnel testing it could save teams as much as $5 million annually or more.

And it would help level the playing field. The teams that generally run mid pack and back are not the teams that can afford to go to the wind tunnel every time a rule changes. Prior to the Xfinity race at Michigan, part of the anticipation was that the playing field would be level because of the unknowns. But if NASCAR made that package the rule, it wouldn’t take long before the big-budget teams used their resources to become the teams running up front again.

The big teams whine about spending money, but if you don’t ban some of these practices they’ll continue to spend.

A friend made an observation over the weekend about the big teams that run their Cup drivers part time in the Xfinity Series. He’s a former racer who tends to look at things from a racer’s perspective. He used Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) as an example. But be clear that we are not saying that this is what JGR is doing.

JGR runs Christopher Bell full time in the Xfinity Series. Brandon Jones also competes as an Xfinity series driver for JGR. You never hear about either of those cars failing post-race inspection. So why is it that when JGR runs one of its Cup drivers, such as Kyle Busch, the car seems to fail post-race inspection quite frequently?

Could it be that JGR is pushing the envelope in the Xfinity Series to see just how far they can stretch the rules, then applying that knowledge to their Cup teams? That would explain why it’s not their full-time Xfinity drivers getting in trouble, but the cars driven by drivers who don’t receive Xfinity points so penalties don’t interfere with the driver’s championship.

If this is a practice, it certainly wouldn’t be restricted to one team; there are a number of Cup-affiliated Xfinity teams that could be used this way.

And while we’re talking about aerodynamics and rules, NASCAR needs to ban the offset rear. On different tracks the teams put the rear in the car skewed so that air passes over one side of the spoiler or the other. Make them simply deal with cars running straight; it is not a good look for the sport to have cars appear to be going sideways on the straight-a-way.

Whatever NASCAR comes up with, I hope they find the best possible product to put on the track.

It’s tough to put any product on the track with all this rain we’ve had lately. Sunday’s Frank Sagi Memorial Race with special guest Buddy Armel was postponed due to the weather. Hagerstown Speedway now plans to hold the event on Aug. 5.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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