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Drivers uncertain what All-Star Race will be like with aero package, restrictor plates


during the Monster Energy NASCAR All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Streeter Lecka

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Busch walked swiftly after last July’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis, disdain coating each word he spoke about driving cars with restrictor plates there.

Next month at the All-Star Race, Busch will again drive a car with a restrictor plate at a track other than Daytona or Talladega. Restrictor plates, aero ducts, a taller rear spoiler and a different splitter — a package similar to what was used in that Indy Xfinity race last year — will be used for Cup cars in the non-points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The hope is to tighten the field so the cars don’t get as spread out and enhance passing.

“I’m not a particular fan of it, but we certainly need to orchestrate some better racing at mile-and-a-half tracks, particularly Charlotte,’’ Busch said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway of the package. “For some reason (Charlotte) hasn’t been one of our best race tracks since the repave with working multiple lanes. It’s been pretty single-file there for a long time.’’

While Busch admits he doesn’t have any better ideas, he’s hesitant to rely on restrictor plates, echoing a sentiment he shared after the Indy Xfinity race.

“I’m not a particular fan of slowing the lead car down and bringing that guy back to the rest of the field, but if that’s what is going to create some action and some closer racing, so be it,” Busch said Friday. “As far as us having to do that every single week and continuing on next year, I have to give it a chance first at Charlotte to see what it’s like before I completely throw it out. That’s not what I signed up to be a NASCAR driver for is to scrunch the field up and take the advantage away from those guys that are fast.”

Busch also warns about taking the racing now for granted.

“I’m not sure that you can fabricate racing to being anything better than what exists, you know? People say how great it was back in the day, but you had two guys or three guys on the lead lap sometimes,’’ he said. “Richard Petty would win races by two laps at places and now you have 25 cars on the lead lap and competition is as close as it’s ever been and people are complaining about it that there is a lack of competition.

“I don’t know what you expect to be competition – you want the last-place guy to be able to be the first-place guy. There’s always going to be a last-place guy, it’s been in F1 forever, NASCAR forever, Xfinity forever. Nobody’s happy. Be miserable like me and then nothing will surprise you.’’

Brad Keselowski has high expectations for this year’s race but raises doubt about what the racing will be like beyond that because teams will have time to improve their car.

“I think it will be really good for one race,” he said. “That’s what I honestly think. It will be terrible after the first race just because of (the) chaos theory, with the teams not having a chance to prepare the cars and creating all kinds of small variables that will mix it up dramatically. It’s kind of one of those things, once the cat is out of the bag and the teams figure it out, then we’ll ruin it again. For one race I think it will be exciting and you’ll never be able to do it again.’’

Kurt Busch offers a different viewpoint.

“We don’t want to upset a points race, but we need to give it a fair shake and usually test sessions, when it’s an open track day for Goodyear or for the manufacturers, you just don’t get a real read until you put something on the line,’’ he said. “So for $1 million, I guarantee everybody will be giving it their best effort and that’s the best way to evaluate a potential aerodynamic package, along with the restrictor plate.

“It’s gonna change numerous things – way too many to mention – but I think it’ll be exciting for the All-Star Race. The crowd will now have at Charlotte Motor Speedway three distinct, different tickets that they’re gonna buy this year. The All-Star Race will have this package. The 600 is one of the premier events of our circuit and then they’ll have the Roval, the road course when we go back there in October. ”
Erik Jones also competed in that Xfinity race at Indy last year and admits he’s not sure what the All-Star Race will be like with a similar package.

“It was interesting to try to get runs and set yourself up to make moves at Indy I thought, though it did make for more passing,’’ he said. “Really, honestly, if you look back at the race it was probably a better race than what had been there in the past in the Xfinity Series. At Charlotte, I don’t know how it’s going to work. I think the intention is for us to be wide-open and be similar to restrictor-plate racing. I don’t know if it’s going to work out like that because I do think there’s still going to be some handling aspects, and I think you’re probably not going to be able to be wide open in traffic when you’re behind other cars.

“I honestly don’t have a good feel for what it’s going to be like on a 1.5-mile (track) like Charlotte, but it is going to be way different. It’s not going to be anything like what you’ve seen at Charlotte in the past for sure.”

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson likes that NASCAR is at least trying something.

“I feel the All-Star race is a great place to test things,’’ he said. “And, I’m happy to see NASCAR using that environment and also the speedway allowing that to happen. In talking to the Xfinity guys that ran the package at Indy, I think Indy might serve that package better with the long straightaways to be able to take advantage of the way the aero works on the car, but let’s try. I mean, why not? There’s really nothing to lose. It might not be the package we love and want, but I’m sure it will get us a step closer and we’ll continue to evolve; largely because so many people are willing to take this chance at the All-Star race.”

Kyle Larson is anxious to see what happens.

“I don’t really know what to expect,’’ he said. “I don’t think it will be any more exciting for us in the seat because it will be a lot slower, but I think it will come across on TV and in the grandstands a lot better. NASCAR is always trying to please the fans, and I think this is a step to make the racing come across as more exciting.”

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