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Ryan: Low downforce should be high priority in Chase

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500

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Here is the argument for running low downforce during the Chase for the Sprint Cup: The racing will be better.

Here is the argument against running low downforce during the Chase for the Sprint Cup: The racing will be better.

Makes sense? It shouldn’t, and that’s the problem.

The racing will be better ... but the tires won’t be matched. And the teams won’t be as comfortable. And the Chase won’t track with rules used for the bulk of the regular season.

These are valid concerns, particularly if the primary objective is keeping drivers and teams happy.

But there is one indisputably niggling fact, and it’s hard to overlook if the primary objective is making fans happy.

The racing will be better if NASCAR bravely calls an audible for the Chase and institutes the low-downforce package that met with smashingly positive reviews at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway.

Curiously, this truism somehow has been perverted into a major reason for staying the course on a rules configuration that clearly has produced a less compelling brand of action this season.

The implication is that, while conceding the racing would be improved with a switch to less downforce, the rules won’t be as “fair” because teams won’t be as prepared after having spent so much money and time optimizing their cars for a Chase run under the 2015 rules.

This line of reasoning sets the regular season as a framework for the playoffs. Even if the rules had drivers on throttle for a much higher percentage of every lap, making passing much more difficult and increasing the aerodynamic advantage to the leader, they should remain static because they were used in the bulk of races in 2015.

This is wrong on its face.

Changing the rules for the playoffs follows the same guiding principle as chopping the cars’ spoilers to remove downforce. In both cases, it’s about degree of difficulty.

Just as it’s supposed to be harder to drive the cars, it also should be a stiffer test to win the title over the final 10 races of the Chase. The playoffs, which essentially are a second season designed to produce surprises, will be hailed as a success if they are disparate from a regular season that featured too many humdrum events.

Yes, teams have devoted much of their resources to developing their chassis and engines under the rules originally set for the ’15 season. But as Carl Edwards noted after his Southern 500 win Sunday, teams also have focused an inordinate amount of R&D time on low downforce, too.

The most legitimate case for keeping the ‘15 rules? It’s too late to construct specially made compounds matched to low downforce for the Chase. Goodyear typically needs at least two to three months of lead time.

But there also wasn’t enough time to build a tire to match the low-downforce package’s debut July 11 at Kentucky Speedway.

The “wrong” tire there resulted in the season’s best race (a 132 percent increase in green-flag passing over the previous year).

Admittedly, drivers won’t be as content with a tire that could be softer.

Again, it’s a question about what is “fair.”

As the late Charlotte Observer columnist David Poole once said, fair is a place you go for funnel cakes.

The mantra from NASCAR over the past six years has been that fan satisfaction should supersede everything in determining its direction. Whether installing double-file restarts or making three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, there often has been little fair to competitors about the recent initiatives aimed at increasing the entertainment value.

The same concept holds true for low downforce.

The racing will be better.

Shouldn’t the debate over using it in the Chase end there?