Debate on NASCAR's experimental aero package continues after Michigan

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- As NASCAR continues to experiment with an aerodynamic package that creates close racing, the debate continues on whether NASCAR should employ a package with which drivers question whether their talent plays a critical role.

At its All-Star Race last month, NASCAR tested an aerodynamic package that used restrictor plates to slow down the cars by limiting air flow through the engine and used ducts in the front of the cars that push air through the front wheel wells in addition to a bigger rear spoiler.

The idea was to create a drafting-like package with slingshot passes, as often is seen at Daytona and Talladega, where the restrictor plates are necessary to keep the cars from going so fast that they get dangerously close to going airborne.

The "success" of the package in creating lead changes at the All-Star Race has NASCAR discussing whether to use it at a NASCAR Cup Series points race (or races) later this year. Kentucky, Chicagoland, Pocono, Michigan and Indianapolis have been mentioned as possibilities.

The package allows teams and drivers who typically don't run near the front to be able to do so because all the cars run similar speed with very little, if no, time lifting off the throttle.

"I am thankful that it improved the show and watchability for the All-Star Race ... but I think we should always be mindful of our responsibility as a sport to make sure the best drivers are able to showcase their talent," former NASCAR Cup champion Brad Keselowski said Friday. "I am apprehensive that coming with a package like that on a larger scale for the sport will in time deteriorate the ability for the drivers to make a difference, and they will look for other racing venues to achieve that."

The Xfinity Series drivers used the package at Indianapolis last year and have used it at Pocono and Michigan the past two weeks. The Pocono race June 2 was underwhelming, while the race Saturday at Michigan provided more of the desired effect, though passing was difficult on the inside.

Austin Dillon, who won the Daytona 500 earlier this year and the Xfinity race Saturday, said he liked the package and, while it's possibly not suitable for all tracks, it is something NASCAR needs to continue to research and explore.

"To be inches off one another, pushing, shoving, wide-open around there and making the correct moves -- jumping out of line at the right times -- it can be frustrating, and there are guys out there competing that you don't see every week," Dillon said.

"The competition is closer together, and there is a lot of driver skill left in it. It's not lifting and how you get back to the gas or any of that, but it's making the move at the right time."

The Xfinity race Saturday featured nine different leaders, with four drivers leading at least 10 laps in the rain-shortened 91-lap affair.

"It felt to me a lot like Talladega, when we all get strung out up next to the wall [at times]," said Cup driver Paul Menard, who was fifth in the Xfinity race. "You're just protecting your outside and ... you're just trying to get a run on somebody and fill the hole. I would not want to do 400 miles [in Cup] of that.

"There's some tracks it would probably work pretty good at. Some multi-groove tracks, I think it would be fine."

In this style of racing, a driver often needs help from the one behind to make a pass. While the top lane often was the best in the Xfinity race, drivers said that on restarts, it depended on which lane was more organized.

"It was close racing," said Elliott Sadler, who won a stage and led 10 laps but ended up 30th. "All day, nobody could get away from each other. You had to have some help to make some moves and stuff like that."

Drivers have also said that once their engineers science out this new package, it will not be as close. But at least for now, it creates an unpredictable atmosphere much like Daytona and Talladega, at which 35 drivers can win as opposed to more than likely 12-15 on any given Sunday.

"I think of the three things that I like to see at a race, and I think of fast cars, the best race car drivers and a great finish," Keselowski said. "Those are the three things I want to see.

"I think that package achieved one of those things [with close finishes] and hurt the other two. In that sense, I consider it a net loss overall."