Saturday, Darlington Raceway provided the slipping and sliding that comes with a worn out surface. Sunday, however, high-downforce negated much of it.
Passing the lead car was a Herculean task, as evidenced by the lead changes. Of the 18 lead changes, only three happened on-track; one happened on a restart and two happened in the final 15 laps, thanks to Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr.‘s run-in.
Track position and restarts took more emphasis, than handling and running down the car ahead. And while tire management factored in, it wasn’t as important, Sunday, as it was in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race.
“Tire falloff probably isn’t the biggest thing we think about,” Cole Custer said.
While these were also present at Darlington in May, it wasn’t as pronounced as Sunday.
“Everything has evolved,” Clint Bowyer said. “Everybody gets better and we used that as a practice session. We had two good practice sessions, so everybody is gonna come back and be better, which is gonna tighten the field up, which is gonna make the race, I mean, from a fan’s perspective not as entertaining as it could be.”
Bowyer also touched on the impact that no practice has had on it.
“When you come in and you’re just stabbing at these things and don’t have practices or qualifying or anything else to line it up, it makes a difference,” he said. “When we’ve got to go out there and we have practice sessions and things like that, it tightens the field up and then it becomes about track position and some strategy and things like that.”
It’s a far cry from the low-downforce package used by the XFINITY Series, where handling and performance on-track mattered more than track position.
“You can move around and do a lot of different things and the aero is not too bad in traffic,” Custer said. “You have a lot of motor where there is tire fall off and you can make passes and it’s fun.”
Of course, there’s no indication from the big NASCAR office in Daytona that it’ll do away with the high-downforce package for next season. So for the time being, we’re stuck with this increasingly polarizing package.