The low downforce package returned at Darlington Raceway; Martin Truex Jr dominated the field
On Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series returned to Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Unlike past races, the package of old returned.
NASCAR has two packages, a high downforce package with low horsepower and a low downforce package with high horsepower. For the last few years, the 550hp package has been used at Darlington Raceway.
Fans, likely you included, generally hate the 550hp package. Despite race stats generally offering more passing with the package, more on-throttle time generally takes it more out of the drivers hands.
As the 750hp package returned on Sunday, Martin Truex Jr surfaced at the front and drove away from the field.
Martin Truex Jr talks the low downforce package
“I love low downforce. That’s all I’m going to say. I love it,” Martin Truex Jr said after the win.
“I feel like especially this year, all three races we won have been with this package, so obviously the guys and girls at JGR are doing a great job.”
“But I just — for me, you look at ’16, ’17, ’18, low downforce, we very well could have won all three championships. We were right there in all three and won a lot of races.”
“Big fan of this kind of racing. Really enjoy it. Today was a heck of a challenge. I did come on the radio one time and say I’m really surprised how slow it feels and how slick it is. I was leading and driving away from the field, and I’m like, this thing is sliding everywhere. It’s pretty amazing just how much this track changes year to year every time we come back. It gets more difficult with the wear of the pavement.”
“I would say that we probably have less downforce now than we’ve ever had here because some of the rules changes since ’17 or ’18, we probably have less downforce than we had then, even with building new cars and working on them to get them better and better and better.”
“Really, really just a fun day, a big challenge, and just got to give it up to my guys for giving me a great car and doing all the little things right.”
The 550 package means drivers can’t use the throttle to steer the car
“You know, I feel like I can make more of a difference when we’re in the low downforce package, especially on these bigger tracks. I think that I’ve always been a guy that’s done a lot of my driving with my right foot and the brake pedal, and the 550 tracks you’re pretty much wide open, not all the time, but if you have to lift, usually you’re dead in the water.”
“It’s really hard to make your car do different things when you can’t let off the throttle. It’s a lot easier to make a car do certain things when you can let off the throttle and use it in different ways.”
“So I really enjoy that part of this, but I don’t know, I’ve been — I think we’ve had success either way, but definitely feel like most of it’s been with this package.”
Coke 600 domination
In 2016, Martin Truex Jr led 392 of 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He smoked the field so bad that it might have been what sparked the package change to begin with.
“It’s funny you bring that up because like my brother-in-law was over last night and Sherry’s dad and we were all talking, and he pretty much told me the reason we’re going away from low downforce is all my fault. So I guess I did it again. He’ll tell me tonight when I go home, you did it again, you stunk up the show. So sorry, not sorry.”
Kyle Larson’s late race charge
Truex Jr won the first two stages in dominating fashion. Toward the end of the race, Kyle Larson put on a late race charge to take the lead.
“You know, I think you just go from being really calm and like, all right, this is great, no cautions, let’s take care of this thing, and just click off the laps and run 90, 95 percent, leave a little bit out there, try to take care of your tires, self-defense, all that kind of stuff,” Truex said.
He added, “Then next thing you know you have a slow pit stop, this and that, you get caught behind a few cars, lap cars racing, whatnot. You’re like, oh, man, he’s right there. Like I hadn’t had to race him all day, where did he come from, better get going, crap, now I’m too loose, I can’t go any faster.”
“Heart rate goes up and anxiety goes up and you just try not to make any mistakes.”
The season finale ends with 750hp package
Phoenix Raceway will host the 2021 season finale. That race will be run with the 750hp package.
“Yeah, well, it’s definitely helped us,” crew chief James Small commented.
“We were okay last year as a company at short tracks and then we went to Phoenix and kind of got our asses whooped by Penske and Hendrick. The whole company worked really hard in the off-season just trying to find all the little things and work on the aero and work on just everything we can within what’s fixed right now. We’re sort of limited on the aero time and thing like that. It’s hard to find gains.
“But everybody back there has been busting their chops really focusing on this because we know it’s going to come down to Phoenix if we can get there.”
Joe Gibbs Racing has lost their advantage with the 550hp package
Joe Gibbs Racing has struggled with the 750hp package at Phoenix. The team is focused on fixing that, throughout this season.
Yeah, definitely,” Small added.
“That was like a real kick in the ass for us as a company, I think. You know, the way they’ve changed it — there’s not as many 550 races anymore. We’ve kind of bitten that package to death over the last couple of years and the gains you can get there is so marginal, and everybody started — we had an advantage in ’19 because I think we approached it a little bit differently on what level of downforce and drag we brought to the track, and everybody has kind of migrated to that kind of thing, so it’s a lot tighter now. It’s a lot harder and the gains to find are less.”
“We kind of didn’t really put much emphasis on the short track stuff last year because there was less races, but with the addition of all the road course races and then obviously Darlington switching over and being a Chase race, as well, it really means it’s super important to be good on this package.”
Small added, “I think we’ve shown across the board as a company everyone is running really well.”