High speed track now, but 750 tracks showing better racing

This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series travels to the Michigan International Speedway for another rare doubleheader weekend. With that said, look for the Fords to dominate. The blue ovals have won four straight races in the Irish Hills and five of the last eight on the season as well.

But, when we get back to the 750 horsepower tracks, which are three of the last four races of the regular season, plus half of the playoff races, look for there to actually be better racing too. In fact, factor in the two superspeedway races left and you get 10 of the final 14 races that should be thrilling in nature.

Yes, NASCAR released a stat last week that passing has actually been up during this pandemic compared to years past.

Since 2007 through 19 races of a season – the 2020 season ranks first in total green flag passes and second in green flag passes to the lead.

In a year-over-year comparison (2019 vs. 2020) we are up 32.7% in green flag passes and up 24.1% in green flag passes for the lead through 19 races.

Average number of leader through 19 races in 2020 is 10.41 – the most since 2014 (11.05). The average number of leaders through 19 races in 2019 was 9.58.

Average number of lead changes (19.63) per race through the first 19 events of the 2020 season are the most since 2014 (24.1) during that same time frame.

Average margin of victory over the first 19 races of the 2020 season is 1.809 seconds, with 10 of the 19 races (52.6%) this season finishing with a margin of victory of less than a second.

The thing is though, the 750 package is what’s creating the better racing. You don’t hear the words “track position” or “clean air” as much. I mean just look at New Hampshire as a prime example. Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin exchanged the lead 13 times from one another.

This new package was a revised version of the “drafting package” that debuted last year. NASCAR knew that they had to make the action better on short tracks, so on tracks one mile in length or shorter, plus all road courses, they went back with higher horsepower (750) and lower downforce.

That means less throttle time and more control back into the drivers’ hands with actually driving the race car.

“It felt like short-track racing, half mile short-track racing,” Hamlin said of having fun while racing Keselowski on Sunday in Loudon with this package. “We were crossing over each other, running into each other, knocking each other up the racetrack, slide jobs in the middle of the corner. It was fun racing those guys. They were very, very deserving today. Happy for them.

“You hate to have a fast car and you don’t finish it off. But I thought obviously the two best cars finished 1-2 today. They got the better end of us. Overall just the racing part of it, I was just having a good time there racing on the short run. Even that long run, the first stage, with the Penske cars, it was fun.”

Keselowski agreed.

“Yeah, oh, yeah,” Keselowski said on if he had fun battling Hamlin. “It was a lot of fun. He was pretty good on the restarts, real short runs. We were really good on the longer runs.

“The PJ1 kept coming and going. One lap it would be in, not in, the next lap it would be in, then it would wear off the racetrack. The low downforce on the cars was awesome because you could run behind somebody and not just be stupid slow. That was really cool.

“I thought we put on a great race. I was really proud of it. Proud of it for our sport and for our team. Proud for our sport because we got away from rules that didn’t make for good races and we went to rules that I think made for good driver battles. Denny and I had a heck of a driver battle.”

Joey Logano agreed too. He’s said all along he felt like their 750 package was fine. It was finding the right adjustments to the other package is what has plagued them.

The 750 package is a lot of fun,” Logano said on Sunday. “There’s a lot more that the crew chief and the driver can really add to everything. It’s not a chaos restart at the end and something crazy happens that is unexpected. You’re not going to get that at 750. 

“The good drivers and good race teams are going to win. That’s the bottom line. They’re challenging to drive. You’ve got to use both feet. You go to Kansas (with the 550-horsepower package) and all you’ve got to use is the right foot, so (the 750 package) gives a driver more tools to work with. You’ve got to think things through more. It’s not balls to the wall all day long, pushing as hard as you can on the repave and not paying a penalty. 

“You come to these short tracks and there’s a penalty for riding the brake. There’s a penalty for pushing too hard on a short run compared to a long run. You’ve got to think more.”

He’s not wrong. Just look at the race winners on the 750 package this year. Logano (Phoenix), Keselowski (Bristol/New Hampshire) and Martin Truex Jr. (Martinsville). On the other package, it can lead to more fluke winners, ie. Cole Custer (Kentucky) and Austin Dillon (Texas). The skill level is down as you are basically flat out. It leads to strategy calls and bold restarts. The lower downforce and higher horsepower package means the car isn’t going to catch you if you are out of control. It separates the good drivers from the bad ones.

That’s why Hamlin was encouraged by a runner-up in New Hampshire last Sunday. It bodes well for playoff tracks and gives them a thicker notebook too.

“I’m encouraged by the run,” said Hamlin. This is the first short flat track that we can build setups for other tracks like Richmond and Phoenix, the championship race at Phoenix. I wrecked out of there in the first run in the spring. We haven’t run Richmond yet.

“This is probably one of the biggest questions marks we were going to have as a race team with our setup and our simulation going into a race. I know Chris was kind of worried about it. He’s always optimistic but he was a little worried we hadn’t had really truly a baseline to build a setup off of.

“We were a second-place car. It’s close, but just got to get a little better.

“That’s one of the things we said after the race, that this is good because now we have something we can build off of. Now it’s up to me to break this thing down and figure out where we need to be better.

“Really got to break it down and figure out where I was getting beat, just start to figure out how we can start to get baselines for other tracks. This is a good step for us. I’m happy that we ran good because the other short flat track we had was Martinsville and we ran terrible. This is a good step for us.”

So with Michigan coming up, which by all accounts from what the Toyota drivers have said that they are lacking in the speed department mixed with Chevrolet winning just twice during this pandemic and not at Michigan since 2014, look for this to be a Ford dominated weekend. But, in the final races after that, the cream of the crop should still rise to the top.

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