NASCAR President Steve Phelps used the words “incredible” and “phenomenal” Sunday morning reflecting on the 2019 season. However, while Phelps praised the racing on the intermediate tracks and superspeedways, he also admitted officials have work to do in the offseason regarding the short tracks.
“Our competition right now on the intermediate and superspeedways, I believe, is the best racing we’ve ever seen,” said Phelps during the season-ending state of the sport press conference. “I’ll start with myself as a fan; I love watching and super excited when we get to these intermediate tracks and the superspeedways — the type of racing that we are going to see.
“Do I think that we need to work with our industry, our race teams, our OEM partners to improve what we’re seeing on the short tracks? I do, and we’re going to do that in the offseason for sure.”
A different aero package was the pre-season storyline. Among the details of the baseline rules package for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams were aero ducts and a tapered spacer reducing horsepower to 550 at tracks longer than a mile. The spoiler was made taller, measuring eight inches.
Officials have made the public aware of tracks that saw an increase in green-flag passes and green flag passes for the lead. Phrases like “eye test” were used, and early in the year Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer, expressed pleasure in seeing the field closer together.
The competition on the short tracks has left plenty to be desired, however. There were six lead changes (three in each race) between both Martinsville Speedway races this year. In the first Dover race, Martin Truex won by nine seconds.
ISM Raceway is a 1-mile facility that is going to host championship weekend next season. However, last weekend’s elimination race (pictured above) saw drivers questioned about it being the finale given the complaints about the ability to pass, and lack of tire fall-off.
“For us, we need to make sure that we are working with our industry, our teams, our OEMs, and Goodyear to make sure that the racing we have in Phoenix both in the spring as well as our championship next year is as good as it can be,” admitted Phelps. “Our promise to our fans, and we’ll do it right here, is that we are going to provide the best racing we can at our short tracks.
“I think we’ve over-delivered at the intermediate tracks, and we will make sure that when we get to Phoenix in the spring and some of the other racetracks that are short tracks, that are going to have better racing.”
One suggested idea has been to go back to a smaller spoiler. Phelps reiterated NASCAR would work with its partners to find a solution.
“Yes, can we go to something that is a lower-downforce package, and do we think that will probably be one of the answers that we can look at to be successful at the short tracks? Yes,” said Phelps. “Whether it’s cutting off the spoiler or other opportunities for us to take some of the downforce off there, those are things we’ll explore. No specific timing.”
Other nuggets from the Phelps press conference:
- ISC, NASCAR merger: “It will be an important part of what our future holds, so the work that was done getting us to that point I think will pay dividends down the line. So you’re going to take the best of what was ISC and the best of what was NASCAR and create a bigger entity as NASCAR that will help service fans.”
- The Next Gen car is still on schedule for a 2021 launch. There is another test scheduled for Next Gen in a couple of weeks. Teams are expected to take delivery of the new car in July.
- The ’21 schedule will be announced in the spring. In looking at the schedule, Phelps said competitive racing, full grandstands, and the market are considered.
- Details around the new sponsorship model for the Cup Series will be announced during Champion’s Week in Nashville.
- NASCAR has a deal through 2024 with its existing TV partners — Fox and NBC Sports.