Spotlight shines on aero rules package, inspection at Atlanta

With Daytona’s dust settling, this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway represents one of the first true tests of the series’ 2019 rules package. Teams tasted the full setup in an organizational test conducted last month at Las Vegas. At Atlanta, championship points and a race victory will be on the line.

Plenty of homework went into developing this season’s rules package, which increases aerodynamic downforce and reduces engine horsepower at certain tracks to promote closer competition. Most of the package’s components will be in place for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM), the second of 36 points-paying races this season.

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For John Probst, NASCAR Vice President for Innovation and Racing Development, the Las Vegas test served as a validation for the simulation work and data that helped to develop the package.

“I think it reaffirmed more of what we’d expected,” Probst said. “To back up a little bit, it’s not a case of we just threw it out there and we’re like, ‘yeah, let’s see what this does. We hope it’s good.’ If you look, it’s really been a journey that we’ve been going on for a couple years. We’ve tried bits and pieces of this in the past and we’ve seen little nuggets of what we’ve wanted to see, and this is really the first time we’ve put it all together.

“So we feel like we’re finally getting to a point where it’s not a case of throwing it out there. We’ve done the research and reaffirmed what the research told us it should be. I think we would’ve walked away from that test and been more confused had something not added up to what we thought it should.”

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Sunday’s 500-miler will feature a targeted 550-horsepower figure and many of the package’s downforce-creating components — an 8-inch tall spoiler, a wider radiator pan and a front splitter with a 2-inch overhang. The Atlanta race, however, will not use the aerodynamic ducts that other intermediate-sized tracks will see, starting with the following weekend’s event at Las Vegas. After simulations and consultations with manufacturers and teams, competition officials elected for brake ducts over aero ducts at Atlanta as a precautionary measure.

“We know that coming to Las Vegas, we weren’t really using the brakes before and with this package, you’ll likely use them less. We said let’s not get off to a rough start in Atlanta by having a bunch of brake failures or tire issues because of brake heat,” Probst said. “Let’s just run conservative and then when we get to Atlanta (again) where we feel more comfortable about the duty cycle on the brakes that we just implement the package ‘full monty’ at that point.”

Probst said competition officials also have had a relatively smooth rollout of another new wrinkle for 2019 — a tougher inspection and penalty structure for all three series. Aside from three car chief suspensions in inspections before Daytona 500 qualifying, the remainder of Speedweeks proceeded without a flutter.

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Probst said the inspection process for Atlanta would look similar, but that teams often try to push limits in different areas on the circuit’s 1.5-mile tracks. But Probst also said he was encouraged by the early level of cooperation in the Daytona garage.

“I feel like they showed up with their cars in pretty good shape and had heeded our direction in the offseason that we’re trying to clean up how you show up at the race track,” Probst said. “… We’re hoping that continues in Atlanta.

“If you look at the post-race, Daytona is pretty different in that that car that won gets torn completely down and then we have to put it completely back together because it goes back over to the museum for a year. So that was a little bit different, but I can say that even from our side of it, it’s really nice from our side to show up for work Monday morning and be looking forward to the next race and not looking back or tearing cars down on a Tuesday, so I think that creates pretty long night right after the race, but when you look at all the benefits that come out of that, this is going to be a really good thing for our sport.”