NASCAR Cup series drivers weigh in on 'unknowns' of 2019 rules package

Ask NASCAR Cup Series drivers if slower cars can make for better racing, and there typically is a pause before the answer.

It's almost like they want to channel their inner Ricky Bobby and say, "I wanna go fast."

But then they try to understand what NASCAR is attempting to do by lowering horsepower from 750 horsepower this year to 550 hp for 20 races next year (not including Daytona and Talladega).

The drivers will have about 100 more horsepower than what they did for the 2018 NASCAR All-Star Race, which the 2019 rules package somewhat mimics for ovals bigger than 1.2 miles. The cars won't have restrictor plates; they'll just use a spacer with smaller tapered holes than what they used this year.

"We don't want to see the cars go slower as race car drivers," said 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch. "That is not what we all want to sign up for. But in the instance of going out there and wanting to put out a better show, we're all for that. ... There's certain race tracks it will bode really well at, and it will be a positive.

"There's probably some others where it might not be that way. We'll have to give it a wait-and-see."

For any track under 1.2 miles, the cars will continue to have 750 hp.

"I thought the All-Star package was too slow, so it's nice they added some horsepower back to the mile-and-a-halves, and then staying the same at the short tracks and road courses, but we'll see," said Ryan Blaney. "I thought the All-Star package had some bright spots in it, and I thought they could make some improvements to some things, and I think they did that.

"I feel like the racing will be better than we even saw it at the All-Star Race because the teams can have more time with the cars and understand them more, and NASCAR can test them and all sorts of things, so we'll just see how it goes."

NASCAR hopes that the drivers will have more throttle response with the use of the spacer, which is about 1-inch think, rather than a restrictor plate, which is just one-eighth-inch thick and often disrupts the air flow in the engine and restricts it.

"If you look at the aero gains that have been made [by the teams causing] higher and higher corner entry speeds ... where the racing line is, where the groove is, where the choice of [lane for] the driver is becomes narrower depending on how fast we're going into the corners," NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said.

"It's less of a margin for Goodyear to work on to develop tires. So when we looked at that, it's a bit of a myth that higher speeds produce better racing. That's not the model that we looked at."

The All-Star Race was contested in segments of 20 laps and 10 laps, much shorter than an actual race.

"I think it can be [slower being better]," Joey Logano said. "I think there's a lot of unknowns. We don't know how it's going to be yet, but I think there's a lot of opportunity for it to be better as well.

"The halfway test that we've kind of had is the All-Star Race, and what we've seen in the Xfinity Series so far with a package that's close to it. Your foot is in the gas ... a lot more, but at the same time you're able to make a lot of moves with the draft and change a lot of different lines."

At all tracks, teams will have an 8-inch spoiler (the 2018 spoiler is just 2.375 inches high), which will increase drag, and the length (not thickness) of the front splitter will reach about 8 inches further underneath the front undercarriage, creating more downforce. A few teams did a tire test at the 1-mile Phoenix oval last week with the package.

"The acceleration obviously wasn't the same as the '18 package just because you have the bigger blade and stuff on the back," Larson said. "[There is] a lot more drag, so acceleration wasn't quite as much.

"It was pretty crazy how far you could run in the corner and then also how quick you could pick the gas up."

Like most racing, much of it can depend on the tire.

"I don't know what it's going to do for the racing at a track like that, but I feel like if we go there with a hard tire like kind of what we were testing on or what it seemed like Goodyear liked, I felt like that would be hard to race," Larson said.

"But they still have time to tweak on it and hopefully bring a tire that will match that aero package and hopefully put on a decent race."

Drivers, of course, have little choice about the package. They've given their input, but now if they want to race in the NASCAR Cup Series, they'll have to accept what NASCAR rules are giving them.

One of the reasons NASCAR is looking at 550 hp is it believes if it can go to all races with that horsepower, that it could encourage more manufacturers to take a look at NASCAR because the development costs might not be as burdensome.

"There's a big attempt being made to improve the quality of racing, and I support making our sport stronger," seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. "That's where I stand on it. At the end of the day, they're still passing out a trophy, and I like trophies. So we'll make whatever work."

So is slower, better?

"I don't know," Larson said. "You can't really answer that until we see the product on the race track with the full field of cars. Me being a diehard core racer, I would say no. But at the same time, the All-Star race was more exciting than any Charlotte race has been on the oval.

"I want to go as fast as I can. But you've also got to put on a good show for the fans, and not only that, but I think with NASCAR's plan to try and help the sport out in the future as far as cost goes, I think that's where a lot of this package kind of leads to. We've just got to wait and see."