No consensus yet on NASCAR’s aero change effects

The consensus from several NASCAR Cup Series drivers after practice Friday at Phoenix Raceway was that there was no discernible difference with the rules package.

“I forgot they did anything until they started talking about it afterwards,” Chase Elliott 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.”

Cup Series teams had 55 minutes, an extended practice session, to work through the new package. After a two-day test at Phoenix Raceway in December, NASCAR made tweaks to the short track and road course aero package, continuing to look for a package that produces better racing with its Next Gen car. Among the features of the aero package are a simplified rear diffuser with fewer vertical strakes, no engine panel strakes and a three-inch spoiler.


A lot of focus has been put on how the car handles in traffic and whether a driver can catch the competitor in front of them and make a pass.

Martin Truex Jr. was blunt and to the point when asked how his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota felt in traffic during practice.

“Terrible,” Truex said. “No change.”

Truex went on to say his car felt similar to what he drove at Phoenix Raceway last year.

“I couldn’t honestly tell,” he said. “The teams and engineers make the cars as close to balanced as they can, so I felt exactly like I did here last fall. Traffic, it still sucked. Will it be worse in the race? It will be different when everyone’s out there. Maybe it will be a little better. Who knows?”

William Byron was disappointed after practice but seemed more focused on the traits and speed of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Byron was 24th fastest in practice after dominating at Phoenix in the fall.

“It’s disappointing when your car is slow,” Byron said of the aero package. “That’s all I care about. I think when you’re fast, you can pass. When you’re slow, you don’t pass. That’s all I really care about; that’s what my job is to do. But if the package races better, that’s great. I just focus on what I have to do, which is try and pass people.

“I don’t feel like I could pass. I passed one car, but there was a six or seven-lap tire difference. So yeah, once I got close to anyone, it was really hard to pass.”

The noticeable difference in feel for Ty Gibbs was the rear diffuser. It was expected that drivers would have to hustle the car more or be able to slide more with the changes.

“I feel more over-body downforce on it, but besides that, it feels pretty dang close,” Gibbs said. “Just a little sloppier, which is what we were expecting.”

Byron also noticed being able to slide more. Goodyear brought a tire with more tread thickness to keep more heat in the tires and increase the amount of fall off.

“The fall off seemed pretty quick,” Byron said. “But unless I was on a two- or three-lap tire advantage or disadvantage, there were comers and goers with that. But with equal tires, I didn’t pass anyone.”

Daniel Suarez and Denny Hamlin were the most positive drivers with the aero package. Suarez felt he had more speed in the front of his Chevrolet because the tire was softer and that it fell off more. The Trackhouse Racing driver believes that will produce good racing. He admitted he was in traffic quite a bit during the first run he made in practice.

“The car is very wild in traffic,” he said. “Probably more than before. But we’ll see. We’ll see exactly where we stack up. I felt like the car was extremely, extremely tight in traffic. I think the tire is the biggest deal. I think having a softer tire on the right side and having a tire that is going to wear out more. I think it’s going to produce good racing. But when it comes to the aero stuff, I don’t know exactly.”

When Suarez was asked if his car started to push when it got behind someone else, he said yes. However, he also “saw cars coming to me, as well, with a little newer tires, and they were doing exactly the same thing. It’s going to be a challenge, but I like the fact that we’ll have to manage our tires a little bit more.”

Hamlin also took note of the tire, and Goodyear working on more fall off. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver said it was a step in the right direction with that part of the equation.

As for traffic, Hamlin didn’t seem bothered by how his car handled.

“I would it say that it was probably a little bit better in traffic,” he said. “Very small from what I could tell. Nothing earth-shattering. If you got caught behind somebody, you would really get caught behind someone, but that is typical of what we’ve had before.

“I thought my car was better than the person I was catching, though, so 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 better.”

Hamlin also advised what viewers should expect in Sunday’s race.

“I think it is not going to be worse than we had,” he said. “What we had was really, really bad for sure. This is a 10 percent fix. If back in the old heydays, where aerodynamics didn’t matter and that is a zero and what we had is 100, this is like 90. It is going to be a very, very small change, but anything that can allow us to run closer together, cross each others wake without the air blocking we have seen over the last few weeks, that will be a good thing, and I certainly think that this package, this tire, is heading in the right direction. It’s not all the way there, but it’s certainly heading there.”

Story originally appeared on Racer