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Lower downforce rules package chosen for 2016 season

After a successful debut in races at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway, NASCAR has elected a lower-downforce rules package for the 2016 Sprint Cup season.

The “base package” will feature a 3.5-inch spoiler, a 0.25-inch front leading splitter edge and a 33-inch radiator pan in width. A similar configuration was used at Kentucky and Darlington (with a slightly wider radiator pan, drawing mostly rave reviews from drivers).

“NASCAR has worked tirelessly with our teams, drivers, manufacturers and Goodyear to develop a rules package that provides fans with the best racing possible,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said in a release. “The success of the races at Kentucky and Darlington in similar trim proved extremely valuable in accelerating rules development for 2016. Now, as teams have even more time to prepare and a strong baseline of data, we anticipate the racing to be even better.”

There could be track-specific rules tweaks involving different tire combinations and drive train configurations. The rear-gear ratios will be maintained at a maximum of 9,000 RPMs.

The 2016 rules also will include mandatory use of the digital dashboard, and several safety upgrades (including a double NACA duct on the right-side window area, a fire suppression activation cable routed to the dash and an improved seat-belt restraint stystem).

The size of the restrictor plate will be reduced slightly to accommodate an increase of roughly 10 horsepower from the addition of roller lifters in engines at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, O’Donnell said NASCAR wanted to stress “a race at Atlanta is going to be different than a race in Kansas based on what tire combinations and gear ratios (are used), which is something different from years past.”

Though some tires and drive train configurations will carry over between tracks, the intent is to move away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach that traditionally has marked a season-long rules package.

“One of the things we learned last year is we referred to it just as a 2014 or 2015 package, and some of the elements that were unique for each one of those racetracks, we could have had a different gear ratio, a different tire,” O’Donnell said. “When we talk about that, I think we just want to spotlight a little bit more what may go into a Michigan package that’s low downforce from a tire perspective or a gear vs. what may go into the race at Kansas.

“Not drastic differences by any means, but just different tweaks that for the most part have been done, but just spotlight those a little bit more and see if we can’t dial those in even further.”

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O’Donnell reaffirmed there will be no changes to this season’s rules over the final six races but said Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway indicated there was more work to be done.

“I think the drama from the Chase has been terrific,” he said. “I think there’s a lot on the line certainly each and every race.

“I think the racing action at Charlotte, we’re always going to try and improve, and that’s why we’re announcing what we are today. I think it took us some time to get there in terms of really making sure we were all aligned and making sure we put the right things in place for ’16. So I’d look at Charlotte as a racetrack that we’ve got to improve upon, and we will do that.”

O’Donnell said low downforce is “directionally where (NASCAR) wants to go,” and there was no plan to revisit adding horsepower in the future.