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What came out of NASCAR, drivers meeting to discuss safety, competition improvements

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Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Not much of note came out of the most recent competition meeting between NASCAR and the drivers on Saturday morning at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. But that is a feature and not a bug these days.

Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. didn’t even attend because they simply felt up to speed on everything, given how frequently the two parties have communicated over the past year. The relationship has been described over the summer as “over-communicating,” which is a vast improvement from the previous decade.

There was a time in the not too distant past where such meetings were rare — and incredibly contentious —with drivers feeling as though they didn’t have a voice when it came to competition and safety matters in advance of the NextGen car.

The creation of the driver’s advisory council last January and how NASCAR responded to the incident at Pocono last summer that prematurely retired Kurt Busch greatly improved their communication levels.

On the docket Saturday morning was pretty standard stuff with NASCAR officials issuing documentation that detailed how much the new front and rear clips have improved the physical impact to drivers inside the cockpit.

They detailed their findings from recent crashes like Ryan Preece getting airborne at Daytona while also communicating their plans for upcoming tests — including one at Phoenix Raceway after the Championship Race to continue working on a rules package improvement for short tracks.  

“It was the normal stuff where we walked through safety and different projects, tests results, wheel force test results and stuff like that,” said Michael McDowell of Front Row Motorsports. “Nothing worth getting excited over.”

NASCAR looking ‘at everything’ in testing

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Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It was not so newsworthy that Kyle Larson said he tuned out during the presentation.

“I’m not really into technology,” Larson said. “It goes over my head so I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Ross Chastain also said it was pretty non-descript.

“Not really, just the normal stuff,” Chastain said. “We have a good communication now. We’re two years, 18 months, into openly talking. Everything was just a consistent step forward.”

Again, that wasn’t the case two years ago.

“Yeah, it’s way better,” Chastain said. “We’re human, we’re all learning and doing this is a productive way, collectively, instead of selfishly what I need or my team or NASCAR, it’s collective.”

Jones didn’t attend the meeting but has been involved in previous ones and has been one of the biggest advocates for improving the short track racing product. He echoed those sentiments on Saturday afternoon in Charlotte.

“We need to work on the package for these tracks, road courses too, because if we’re going to have so many in the playoffs, we need to be better there,” Jones said.

NASCAR tried to implement through testing a ‘lift splitter’ that created downforce for the trailing car but lift for the leading car all in the efforts of creating additional passing up front. That’s because this car generates so much dirty air that it stifles passing.

Christopher Bell participated in that test and said it ‘literally made no difference,’ so what does Jones think they need to be looking at in December at Phoenix?

“I don’t know what the solution is but I’m not hearing anything in the pipes either.”

McDowell says he understands NASCAR is looking at a little bit of everything.

“Everything is on the table for that,” McDowell said. “They’re working really hard on that. That Phoenix test will feature elements from all of that — aero, the splitter, diffuser, the tires and all those things. They’re working hard on that but I don’t think there’s a magic light switch they can flip and that’s the easy fix. That’s why it’s taken a little bit longer than everyone hoped they would.”

Larson will participate in that test, but again, he’s not technically inclined enough to offer a potential answer.

“Again, I don’t really know much about technology but I saw their graphs,” Larson said. “I’m doing the test at Phoenix so at least I’ll get to experience it.”

Denny Hamlin makes a pitch for changes

Denny Hamlin has argued, even as recently as last week, that the only possible fixes for this car on short tracks and road courses is more horsepower or a narrower tire.

“We’ve continued to cut horsepower,” Hamlin said. “The grip on the car at short tracks is a byproduct of having wider tires and less horsepower. In a cost cutting measure, we’ve continued to cut horsepower which has led to shifting and it’s led to less power and more grip on the short tracks, which has made the racing bad.”

Hamlin says all these other things they are testing are a moot point until they either add power or decrease grip.

“We can fiddle with the car and aerodynamics until we spend all the millions of dollars in our pockets but it’s not going to change it until you change either the grip or the power under the hood,” Hamlin added.

His teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Martin Truex Jr., had mixed takeaways from that analysis.

“Yes and no,” Truex said. “It would help but you still can’t get to the rear bumper ahead of you. You still can’t get close enough to the car ahead of you.”

That’s the dirty air and resulting aero push.

Another complicating factor, especially when it comes to changing the wheels and tires is that the agreement between NASCAR and the single source parts manufacturers will not expire until the end of next season.

So, it would be challenging for NASCAR to change the terms of the agreement with BBS of America to alter the wheel or even Goodyear. It would also probably take about six months of R&D and testing to even produce such a tire.

As Hamlin pointed out, the deciding factor behind horsepower reductions as NASCAR claims it, is cost reduction. For their parts, teams say their engine bills have not been effectively reduced over the past seven years of consistent horsepower reduction.

NASCAR also says publicly that reduced horsepower engines are simultaneously a bridge to a next generation engine formula and an effort to court additional car manufacturers to build such an engine to enter the Cup Series.

But full circle, the sanctioning body and drivers are meeting regularly and there’s more collaboration there than over a decade, and a willingness from all parties to try different things when it is mutually agreed there are issues to overcome.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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