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Drivers discuss what Phoenix race could be like with new aero package

Kim Coon, Nate Ryan and Kyle Petty explain how less down force gives the illusion of adding horse power to the car, and predict how this might impact the driving at Phoenix Raceway.

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Opinions vary but drivers are hopeful that the new aero package debuting this weekend will make passing easier in Sunday’s Cup race at Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR cut the spoiler from 4 to 2 inches and made changes to the underside of the car to reduce downforce. The changes, tested at this track in January, will be used at most short tracks and all road course events.

Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap 131.258 mph Friday. He was followed by Ryan Blaney (131.105 mph) and Alex Bowman (130.724), Joey Logano (130.586) and Chase Briscoe (130.270). Josh Berry (128.986) was 23rd, filling in for the injured Chase Elliott. Qualifying is Saturday.

NASCAR announced Friday night that it took the louvers, the vents on the hoods, from all four Hendrick Motorsports cars after practice. There will be no penalties this weekend. If there are any penalties, those will come next week. NASCAR saw a potential issue with the louvers before practice, discussed it during practice and confiscated the pieces after the practice session.

MORE: Dr. Diandra dissects Cup short track aero package

MORE: Phoenix Cup practice results

Denny Hamlin said after Friday’s practice that he noticed a change in passing cars.

“I think they did a really good job of getting some grip out of the car,” he said of NASCAR.

Hamlin, who was 19th on the speed chart, said he was “looking forward” to Sunday’s race and that he thought it would be easier to pass than last year’s race. Hamlin also cautioned about having unrealistic expectations for this weekend.

“I don’t want everyone to get crazy excited and then if the race is a snoozer, that’s just how it happens sometimes, but this is the right direction for sure.”

Bowman said there was a lot of “slipping and sliding” on the track with this new package. He found it challenging behind cars in practice.

“I will say that it felt like dirty air was as bad or worse than it’s ever been here,” he said. “We’ll have to see how the race goes. That was one car behind another, so maybe it will be different in the race.”

Chris Buescher, 12th on the speed chart, was hopeful that the package would create the desired results in the race.

“I think it has a lot of potential to break the field up and make you have to move around,” he said. “It is still aero sensitive front to rear and center off, but that seems pretty typical everywhere with this car.”

Not everyone was focused on what the racing could be like Sunday. Points leader Ross Chastain was just trying to find more speed from his car.

“We’re at a large loss of grip, I think even compared to the field, so we missed it a bit,” said Chastain, who was 26th on the speed chart in practice, nearly 3 mph off Larson’s best lap.

Chastain said his car felt like it had “10-lap old tires when I have fresh tires (on).”

The team was busy making changes throughout practice and afterward.

“We realized pretty early on in practice that we had some work to do,” Chastain said. “We threw quite a bit at it in practice and will throw some more. We just haven’t found it. We don’t fire off. We don’t hold on as good either. It’s not like we’re really good at the end of the run and we save our tires. It’s a lack of grip. It’s not one glaring issue.”