NASCAR’s new low down force package in force for 2016 made its debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday. NASCAR announced prior to the season that the package will be campaigned the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup season NASCAR’s tracks with the exception of Daytona and Talladega. The package had been raced last year at Darlington and Kentucky Speedway, and the results met with approval from drivers, fans and NASCAR officials.
Sunday the new package debut for its first race of 2016. It had been tested last month at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but Sunday was the first use of the configuration in combination with softer tires that led to more slipping and sliding and tire wear. There had been several spins during practice but during Sunday’s race there appeared to be no major issues and a great deal more passing, at least behind the leaders. Kevin Harvick led a race high 131 laps, but Jimmie Johnson took the lead 40 laps from the end and won. An interesting tidbit was the lack of crashes. There were only two cautions, one for debris that didn’t come until lap 210. Ryan Newman got a flat tire late and the last lap of the race saw a multicar crash behind the leaders. For the most part however the racing was clean and two and three wide races could be seen all through the field.
After it was over the drivers seemed to be universally in agreement that the new package was great. Chief among them was Dale Earnhardt Jr. who beat Kyle Busch to the line to finish second.
“I loved it,” Earnhardt said. “We were sliding around and driving the hell out of the car. I had a blast. I had some good races there on the track with the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and a bunch of guys. Man, it was so much fun.”
“I post old pictures online all the time of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s and that’s when racing was racing,” he added. “That’s when it was good. That’s what they saw today. “
Kyle Busch spoke to Earnhardt about race when it was over. He didn’t seem too disappointed in the results.
“About the two thirds mark of the race was pretty fun,” Busch said. “It was himself (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and Brad (Keselowski) and me that were just battling back and forth and slide jobbing one another and high lane-ing it and cutting each other off and everything, so it was pretty fun. This package lends itself to that.”
Carl Edwards has long been an advocate for lower downforce. The Missouri driver is known for his prowess on dirt tracks, and has long been vocal about wanting the package. He finished fifth Sunday.
“This is real racing,” Edwards said. “We’re driving hard. You can see the guys out here just digging for everything they’re worth. I’m worn out. That’s a tough race and just a lot of fun. I just can’t thank NASCAR enough and Atlanta – don’t ever pave this place – it’s a perfect race track. I hope the fans enjoyed the show. The thing is, just know that in that car we’re driving as hard as we can.”