NASCAR’s new aerodynamic rules package, which officially debuts this week, already has produced some unintended consequences.
Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is the first race this season to see the new Sprint Cup series rules intended to reduce horsepower and downforce in hopes of producing better racing.
But the speeds on the track are faster than last season.
In Thursday’s testing and Friday’s practice, several drivers posted average speeds higher than the fastest qualifying lap for last season’s race at Atlanta (191.278 mph, by Aric Almirola).
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Temperatures Thursday and Friday were much cooler – in the 40s much of both days – and speeds did decrease Thursday as more rubber got laid on the track.
In Friday’s practice, though, Kyle Larson led the way with an average speed of 192.989 mph, after Xfinity Series drivers had already had two practice sessions to put rubber on the track.
Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s vice president of innovation and racing development, cautioned Thursday that five to six races would be needed before a good evaluation of the rules package could be made.
The early results, though, were surprising.
“These cars just get faster and faster, and they still have a big splitter and a big spoiler and real sticky tires,” Carl Edwards said. “Even when you take away a little bit of power, we’re making so much speed in the middle of the corner, it’s really fast there.
“I think NASCAR is heading in the right direction by cutting the spoilers down. I think the further we go in that direction, the better it’s going to get.”
Many drivers said they didn’t notice much difference, at least initially.
“I really didn’t notice anything,” Larson said. “I thought it still came up to speed pretty well. Maybe it doesn’t carry to the end of the straightaway as hard as what it did before, but we have less downforce too. It still feels fast.
“I really didn’t notice much difference between this year versus last year.”
What is different this week is the type of racing. After drafting in packs at Daytona, the 1.54-mile Atlanta track is more representative of what drivers will face a majority of this season.
Intermediate-length tracks dominate the schedule, and in particular the 10-race Chase.
The initial results Friday, however, looked very similar to last season with drivers Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin among the fastest cars in practice.
“This is really what I feel like is the start of our season because this is the majority of the size race tracks we run on,” said Larson, last season’s rookie of the year. “I hope we can carry this speed on throughout the rest of the weekend and rest of the year.”
Friday night, Logano posted the fastest average speed of the weekend, 194.683 mph, on his way to winning the pole for Sunday’s race. He was only fourth-tenths of a second off the all-time fastest qualifying lap in the track’s history.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
Qualifying speed posted Friday by Joey Logano, who won the pole for Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Other top qualifiers
2. Kevin Harvick, Chevy
3. Jamie McMurray, Chevy
4. Denny Hamlin, Toyota
5. Carl Edwards, Ford
6. Kyle Larson, Chevy
Top qualifying speed for last season’s race at Atlanta.