NASCAR announced Tuesday changes for the rules package for the upcoming Cup Series season. The changes will be in place on short tracks and road courses on the Cup circuit, and include, as reported by The Associated Press, “a significantly smaller rear spoiler, which shrinks from an 8-inch height to 2.75 inches. The front splitter’s overhang will now measure a quarter-inch (down from 2 inches), with approximately 2-inch wings (reduced from 10.5 inches).”
These changes will be in effect for both of the races at Martinsville Speedway this year. But what do the changes mean, and why were they necessary? Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell spoke with the Bulletin to explain them.
Martinsville Bulletin: Can you explain the changes to someone who may not know much about the technical side of racing?
Clay Campbell: The easiest thing I think to explain, and fans, those that follow the sport you could even see it, the biggest change was dropping the spoiler from an 8-inch spoiler, that’s on the back deck leg, down to 2¾, so you’re taking 5-plus inches off of it. So that’s huge. The splitter, which is in the front of the car, they shortened that up as well. Both of those things gave downforce to the car, so that planted the car down to the ground better and. ... It didn’t take driving away from the competitors but with the changes they made, it’ll put a lot more responsibility back in the hands of the drivers because the car doesn’t have as much downforce, and it’s not planted to the track as much as it is with the big spoiler and all that. It’s going to be a big change.
If you go down the road at 60 miles per hour, 70 miles an hour, on the interstate, and you put your hand out, what does it do? It [the wind] throws it back. And you’ve seen it here riding in the pace car or the race car, it make a big difference with all that air swirling. So here’s what it did, it knocked a big hole in the air with the big spoiler, and it disturbed the air coming to the car behind it, so it made it tough for a car to get up and really be competitive and pass and run side-by-side and things like that.
So I think what NASCAR is doing, it should get us back, and really it will, because this goes back to the package they had in ‘17 and ‘18, and racing was fine then. What they tried to do was make a one-package-fits-all for all racetracks, and we’re not a one-size-fits-all. We’re all different sized, different shapes, different speeds. We’re not the NFL that plays on a 100-yard field every week that’s flat. We’ve got banks, we’ve got flat tracks, and the whole deal, so I’m glad NASCAR felt the need to address the short tracks, because, let’s face it, the mile-and-a-halfs and bigger tracks, there was some really good racing last year, but where we saw we needed some attention was the short racks and road courses. So I’m glad NASCAR recognized that, and the teams recognized it, because that was all a joint effort to get that changed. What they wanted to do was say, ‘This is what we’re doing, we’re not changing, we’re making it one-size-fits-all for everything.’ So the teams agreed to make that change, so it’s going to be a win-win for everybody.
MB: It seems when we were talking to drivers before the first race here last year and asked about the new package, they would all say, ‘Well, I don’t think it’s going to effect Martinsville too much,’ and they didn’t seem to think it was going to be a big deal at first. What do you think was the difference once they actually got on the track?
CC: I think what people tend to forget, even though speeds here are slower than most of the rest of the tracks, you’re still running 120 miles an hour down the straightaway. So like I said earlier with my example of sticking your hand out the window at 60 miles an hour, you can imagine what it does at 120 miles an hour. It makes a difference. I never thought I’d see the day that an aero package would affect what we do here at Martinsville, but the cars are so much faster now, they’re so aerodynamic that the least little bit of change you do to them, it does make a difference. So I think it surprised everybody. I think they probably figured if it affected them anywhere it wouldn’t be here, but we saw it did affect them here. So it’s to the point now the speed they’re running and things like that, it makes a difference.
MB: Did you hear from fans about the races here last year? (In Martinsville’s two races last season, the winners led for 446 and 464 laps)?
CC: Yeah, we did. They weren’t really complaining, but they said it’s not the typical Martinsville. That’s not what we’re used to seeing at Martinsville, a driver leading hundreds of laps and very few passes for the lead, or very few passes period. It was just not your typical Martinsville racing. We heard that loud and clear. I think NASCAR heard it. And it wasn’t just here, it was the other short tracks and road courses. So to that extent it helped that it wasn’t just one track, the proof is in the pudding and it did make a difference at those tracks.
MB: So going back to what it was in 2017 and 2018, you had really good races here those years.
CC: Yeah, so we’re excited for that. Of all the years we need exciting races, it’s this year. This is going to be our biggest year ever with the first race under the lights on May 9 and then the next-to-the-last race for the championship in the fall. It’s critical that we get racing back to the way it used to be and I think this is going to do it so it was great news to hear that yesterday. We were tipped off on it the day before, so we knew it was coming. Like I said, I applaud NASCAR for addressing the need for change. I think that’s one good thing about them. They’ve got a tough job. They’ve got 40 teams on the field every weekend, and they’ve got to make it all as competitive and equal as possible so they’ve got a challenge. But at least they see when things need to be addressed, and they’re not afraid to do it.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.