The jury is still out on the 2019 aero package—as it should be.
Competitors in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series have not even raced the full-blown package—which rolls out this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The racing product at Atlanta Motor Speedway was promising, but as Brad Keselowski observed after winning the race, “It's still really early.”
“Atlanta is not like the other mile‑and‑a‑halfs in a lot of ways,” Keselowski said. “A lot, a lot of tire wear here, super high speeds and banking, super high tire wear. It kind of maxes out in all the categories, and then you take like a Las Vegas next week is probably the middle of all the categories.
“So I wouldn't maybe guarantee that what you saw (on Sunday) is what you'll see moving forward, for good or bad. So it's hard to give great answers, but all in all, I thought it was—it was about what I expected it to be here for Atlanta, but we'll just keep tweaking on the cars, keep learning about them and keep getting better, and the racing will evolve. What direction, I don't know.”
The basic difference this weekend at Las Vegas will be the introduction of air ducts—which along with a bigger radiator plan—will add significant drag to the front end of the cars. For teams that struggled with balance last week, there’s a new to deal with in Sin City.
Goodyear is introducing a new tire combination for this weekend at Las Vegas, based on a test Jan. 31-Feb. 1. There’s a new construction for the left-side tires. The right-side tires, which have a single-tread compound, were used at Michigan and Texas in 2018.
“Excessive heat is really the enemy of a race tire and tire performance," said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “On surfaces that don’t naturally promote wear, it is important to design a tire that can handle and dissipate that heat, and this right-side utilizes a tread compound formulation which does that.”
Strategy will certainly come into play this weekend, when crew chiefs have to decide whether track position is more important than tires on the relatively smooth asphalt.
Jimmie Johnson, who has four wins at the 1.5-mile track, participated in the test. Given the ease of movement during the test, Johnson doesn’t believe track position will be as critical.
“Passing the leader was a bit tricky,” Johnson said. “But it was kind of a revolving door from second on back to 13th of the 13 cars we had there. So, there’s still a lot to learn You’re going to have to be comfortable in the draft, and racing two- and three-wide.
“I think the spotters are going to get a big workout and kind of be in that restrictor-plate mind-set two-thirds of the season now.”
Still, there will be a premium to get out front early in the run. Johnson expects the complexion of restarts to change dramatically with the new aero package.
“This package is going to be different than what we’ve seen in the past,” Johnson said. “You don’t have as much power to spin the tires. I feel like in a restrictor-plate race, who is behind you and the type of push they can give you is going to make a big difference in how things turn out for you down the backstretch. So I feel like the leader will probably make decisions based on who they think is a good pusher.
“I’m thinking more like plate racing. It depends more on the push than it really does the launch.”