The All-Star Race may be NASCAR's most critical test session of the season

The All-Star Race may be NASCAR's most critical test session of the season
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Can the 2019 All-Star Race provide the same watershed moments that fans witnessed in last year’s event?
 
The first glimpse of the current aero package debuted last May.  Despite the acclaim—and promise provided by an improved product on the race track, with 38 lead changes among seven drivers—the new rule configuration didn’t reappear until nine months later at Atlanta. 
 
Once again, NASCAR will use the All-Star Race as an 85-lap test session, this time for certain aspects of a Generation 7 car expected to on track in 2021. The two primary innovations are a single-piece carbon fiber splitter/pan designed to improve ride-height sensitivity and a radiator exit duct through the hood of the car.
 
“It will be neat to see how it works out,” Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Director Jay Fabian said of the changes on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday. “The splitter that we have this week is a little different. It’s about 48 inches wide and the center part is all carbon, and it’s got an integrated pan that goes back about the same distance as the current pan does. It’s got the nose of the splitter turned up just a little bit, and it’s still got the bullnose on the front. 
 
The cars will also feature radiator exit ducts designed to pull air through the grille and over the nose of the car. This change is expected to add downforce to the nose, decrease drag and cool the engine so teams can apply more tape if so desired. 
 
“We had to work through some OEM styling on the hood to make sure (the ducts) ended up where they needed to be,” Fabian said of the exit duct. “Also, we’ve kept them centered up enough so that the stream stays over the greenhouse of the car, because those are all common elements. Keeping that flow across the windshield, roof, back glass, decklid, spoiler--it’s important to keep it in that stream instead of letting it fall along the sides of the car.”
 
Fabian’s hope is that these changes will add security to the ride, allow the drivers to pass more easily and diminish the advantage of the lead car.
 
“You’re always trying to do that,” Fabian said. “That’s the unicorn we’re all searching for, for sure.”
 
Certainly, the shorter length and segments of the All-Star Race— with four stages of 30 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps and a 15-lap shootout—naturally create more restarts and should bunch up the 19-car field. But will the event deliver the same excitement as 2018 and if so, how long will the fans have to wait for the implementation of the tweaks to the car?
 
Fabian said the NASCAR R&D Center is “full speed ahead” on the development of the new car. Additional benefits could include cost containment, additional brand identity and attracting future OEMs.
 
Still, there are a lot of unknowns until the cars roll out for practice on Friday morning. Defending All-Star Race winner Kevin Harvick has not seen his car with the alterations. But the driver remains optimistic.
 
“These cars are really, really sensitive, currently, with this particular splitter to the height to the ground and, if that improves the sensitivity to the splitter height and the cars lose less downforce because of where the cars run on the racetrack behind each other, then I am a fan,” Harvick said. “They are losing 400 to 600 pounds of downforce when you get behind somebody. At Texas, we had a weird situation where the splitter was at a weird height and the car vibrated and bounced so bad that you couldn’t drive it. Those are the types of things that you don’t really know, but it was a strange thing. 
 
“The radiator duct is really for under-hood temperatures and to keep the under-hood temps down because they make the engine guys nervous with all the wires and things under the hood. I think everybody will be fine with that. The splitter is the part that I am excited about. When you get behind a car right now, the car raises up. If it raises up a couple hundred-thousandths of an inch, it is going to lose hundreds of pounds of downforce because of the car coming up off the race track."
 
Clearly the differences in the All-Star package are signficant. We'll find out on Saturday night whether they will be as eye-opening as last year's glimpse into the future of Cup racing.

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