So Far, NASCAR New Short-Track Package Much Ado About Nothing Much

nascar cup series shriners children's 500 practice
NASCAR's New Short-Track Package Gets Cool ReviewsChris Graythen - Getty Images
  • Atlanta winner Daniel Suarez said solving the new short-track package is a group learning experience: "We are going to all find out together on Sunday."

  • Joey Logano clocks fastest lap at 131.166 mph in Friday practice for Sunday’s Shriners Children’s 500.

  • Third-fastest Tyler Reddick unhappy in the new system’s debut.

If a thoughtfully, painstakingly engineered aerodynamic package for NASCAR’s short tracks emerged from months of innovation and ingenuity and nobody noticed, does it still give the Next-Gen car the maneuverability and grip the drivers are looking for?

Under sunny desert skies on Phoenix Raceway’s mile oval Friday, the question remained unanswered.


To Chase Elliott, Ty Gibbs, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex, among others, the difference between the new short-track package and previous set-ups was barely discernible, if at all, during practice for Sunday’s Shriners Children’s 500.

nascar cup series shriners children's 500 practice
Chase Elliott had forgotten all about the new aero package that was unveiled on Friday at Phoenix.Chris Graythen - Getty Images

“I forgot they did anything until they started talking about it afterwards,” Elliott, driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 9 Kelley Blue Book Chevy, said. “I don’t see it really changing a whole lot. I could be totally wrong, but I don’t think it’s going to change much.”

Martin Truex said his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry didn’t handle any differently than it did in November’s 2023 season finale: “The teams engineer everything, make the car as close to balance as they can. So I felt exactly like I did here last fall.”

He said Friday’s exercise was “honestly, just a normal practice. You give updates on the balance of your car and what direction you need to go with it—kind of where you sit on speed. Car felt close. Need a little work to be better. We need a good chunk to be a winning car, but we will make adjustments and see, but as far as feeling different from past times here, not really.” Traffic still, in his opinion, was “terrible—no change. It still sucked.” Truex said he still is wondering, “Will it be worse in the race?”

He figured “it will be different when everyone’s out there. Maybe it will be a little better.” Who knows?”

Teammate Ty Gibbs said his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry “was just a little too tight. We are making adjustments to fix that and be better. You know the way this car is – being lower power – sometimes when you get bogged down, you just pay for it.”

He said he didn’t notice anything too different from his 2023 car: “Not really too much. I can feel the rear diffuser downforce—they pulled some stuff off that thing. I feel more over body downforce on it, but besides that, it feels pretty dang close—just a little sloppier, which is what we were expecting.”

Gibbs did say he expects to pick up speed from last year’s performance, “once we make our right adjustments, for sure. Just got to get there. We are trying different stuff.”

In Denny Hamlin’s case, improvement “is not going to be in how the car feels aerodynamically, because we are not that good to be able to tell that. It just matters if it shows up on the speed chart.”

The gist of his assessment was that specific changes to his No. 11 Brakes Plus Toyota outweighed any changes the sanctioning body has made to the cars across the board.

“Yeah, from the 11 standpoint, for sure. I don’t know about the other guys,” Hamlin said. “But I know for us, we have to do something different than what we have done in the past, and we are trying that now.” So that’s what he and his team were focusing on in Friday’s so-called Happy Hour.

nascar cup series shriners children's 500 practice
Kyle Larson said that the new package did perform a bit better in traffic.Chris Graythen - Getty Images

Even before he strapped into his car for practice, points leader Kyle Larson said he was “not sure yet how that affects things, if that changes the racing much or not.”

Hamlin, though, was willing to give the new package some credit, following his second-fastest showing with a best lap of 131.08 mph.

“I would it say that it was probably a little bit better in traffic. Very small from what I could tell. Nothing Earth-shattering,” he said. “If you got caught behind somebody, you would really get caught behind someone, but that is typical of what we’ve had before.... If they are equal cars, I would say it is going to be tough to get around anyone, but it seems like, package-wise, maybe a slight bit of change [for the] better.”

He said he really couldn’t sense any change in the diffuser.

“I couldn’t, no,” Hamlin said. “I think some of the changes where it is supposed to be better, I think it’s just not supposed to be worse than what we had before. It is just a far less expensive piece.”

Faint praise is about all the praise the new package received Friday after Team Penske’s Joey Logano topped the leaderboard with a 133.166-mph lap in the No. 22 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford.

Make that no praise in the case of Tyler Reddick, who said after his third-fastest performance Friday at 131.066. The Mobil 1 Toyota driver used phrases such as “exponentially worse” and “not exactly what we wanted,” recounting that he clipped the wall several times with his 23XI Racing Camry. With about five minutes remaining in the practice period, Reddick got loose and spun in a cloud of smoke and said he “knocked the tail off of it pretty good.”

In the garage area, last week’s Las Vegas runner-up told FOX TV’s Josh Sims, “I don’t know how we went third on the board, but we’ve got some work to do. We don’t have a lot of turnaround time for tech. I don’t know if that’s some of our handling issues, but yeah, just every time I feel like we made a positive change, we’d get in traffic, and it’d just be gone again.

“Pretty interesting, to say the least. I think this package was supposed to help traffic [the ability to pass in dirty air], but it feels exponentially worse,” Reddick said. “Very interesting trying to feel out your car, feel out what’s happening there out in traffic, as well. I’m sure we got a lot to talk about and figure out in a short amount of time.”

Daytona 500 winner William Byron said Friday evening that success with the short-track package, so far, is “I think, just really, who guessed the best coming here.”

He said, “The aero balance is totally different, and your setup has to coincide with that. We didn't guess correctly, but we still have time to get it right for Sunday. There's lots of changes going into it. But it just has more to do with what everyone's SIM says. I know tomorrow is completely different.”

Daniel Suarez, the Atlanta champion said, “At this point, honestly, everything is a guessing game, right?”

He said his No. 99 Trackhouse team Chevy demonstrated “maybe a little bit more speed in the front end because the tire is softer. I think that's going to produce good racing. But I was in traffic quite a bit, the first run, and the car is very bad in traffic. I felt like the car was extremely, extremely tight in traffic. But we’ll see. I think that the tire is the deal.” Suarez said Goodyear is “the one that can really move the needle there, big-time.”

Byron, however, said the “tire probably has 20 percent to do with it, but I would say 80 percent of it is the aero changes.”

Suarez concluded, “Maybe we have a little bit work to do, but every time that I was seeing people behind me, they were having exactly same issue that I felt like I was having. In reality, we are going to all find out together on Sunday.”

Phoenix Raceway, generally not characterized as a short track, is NASCAR’s venue of choice to debut the short-track package. The rest of the weekend will determine what tweaks the series will make before the package comes into play again at Martinsville and Richmond.