NASCAR Off to Talladega, then mostly intermediate tracks and road courses for two months. The races return to Richmond at the end of July, and Denis Hamlin explained why this and other short tracks remain problematic in the Cup Series.
What we saw Sunday in Martinsville needs to be fixed. NASCAR lacks variables to change, and the best options defeat an important goal of Next Gen car development: saving money.
Denny Hamlin noticed Ryan Preece fell like a rock in Martinsville
Theoretically, a flawless pit stop at the end of stage 2 could have allowed Ryan Preece to score a near wire-to-wire victory at Martinsville, giving the driver of the No. 41 Ford his first NASCAR Cup Series victory. However, this scenario disappeared at the start of the phase.
Preece came out of the pits in the lead after Harrison Burton’s spin triggered a caution. Unfortunately, a speeding penalty sent him back to the back of the field after leading the first 135 laps of the day. We did not see him again as he went to a 15th-place despite two thirds of the race to recover.
Denny Hamlin noted how different such a situation would have been with the Gen 6 car.
“When a car hit it, you could come back from a speeding penalty, explode onto the field, and you could make it,” he said during the Harmful Actions Podcast. “In the Next Gen era, it seems like we’re talking more and more about ‘execution.’ I say it all the time with my ’11’ team. It’s execution. When you are in the lead, control the race and don’t lose it. And if you don’t lose it and you just run a nice smooth day, make no mistakes, make good restarts, we’ll find ourselves in a position to win most of the time.
Finding speed is almost impossible
Four Hendrick Motorsports wins in nine starts may suggest otherwise, but NASCAR came close to making every Cup Series car perform and look the same once you get past the grille. This hasn’t necessarily hurt racing at bigger tracks, but Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville remain a problem.
Denis Hamlin mentioned tire drop as an indication of the consistency of Next Gen cars. Previously, teams had more variables they could tinker with when setting up cars, but the trade-off was that some aggressive options ate tires. But Next Gen cars are as close to prefabricated vehicles as possible (translation: cheaper), so forget about innovating.
“Tire drop is half of what it used to be,” Hamlin said. “And at a time when lap time loss was twice as great (as today), you had cars that were different because they were made and built by the teams themselves. There were more overtaking because there were more variables: different drivers, different cars. It all added up to a greater variation in lap times.
This resulted in some exciting racing as the cars settled into widely varying speeds earlier on the long runs.
Denny Hamlin: “It took away our skills”
Many NASCAR drivers applauded the Next Gen car last year because it was more difficult to drive, placing an emphasis on skill. Enthusiasm waned once drivers realized they couldn’t do much on short tracks.
When Jeff Gluck of The Athletic made his weekly Twitter poll When asked if Martinsville was a good race, only 37 percent said yes.
“I wonder: Were there any cars really that bad, or were they just in the (expletive) air?” » asked Denny Hamlin. “So it’s hard to say what it is. When you put a good car in the back, does it become fair (expletive)? And when you put a (comprehensive) car up front, does it become awesome? I do not even know. It’s very difficult to say! But it’s certainly frustrating because, as pilots, it takes away our skills.
“I know what I have to do if I want to get a little more lap time. I know techniques that I can use on this circuit to either establish overtakes or gain a little lap time depending on the length of the races. I can abuse my tires for a while, and I know that and I can use those skills to make passes. Now you put me behind someone who has never raced on a track before, and I won’t be able to pass him. It’s just that it’s so difficult.
NASCAR has already played with tires and aero packages during testing last year. There is a lack of options to tackle an obvious problem.
Do you have a question or observation about racing? John Moriello of Sportscasting publishes a mailbag column every Friday. Write to him at (email protected).