NASCAR's new rules put performance in hands of drivers

As popular as NASCAR's decision to change its aerodynamic package for the 2016 Cup season seems to be with drivers, it's worth taking a closer look at how it might truly change the sport.

"It's pretty complicated _ who knows what everyone's goals are, right?" driver Carl Edwards said at Kansas Speedway.

"Sometimes it feels like the goal of the sport is to make it so everyone is more equal or to where it's easier to drive. That appears on the surface to be good. But it's important to remember that race cars should be hard to drive. There's supposed to be a lot of talent involved with engineering and I think NASCAR is recognizing that," he said.

NASCAR tested the low downforce package -- which includes a 3.5-inch spoiler, .25-inch front leading splitter edge and a 33-inch radiator pan -- earlier this season at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

Drivers loved the package then; the Kentucky race produced a track-record 22 green-flag passes. So they expect to love it in 2016, when it will be used at all tracks except Daytona Beach, Fla., and Talladega, Ala., NASCAR's two superspeedways.

"It just has less downforce so it has less grip," explained Matt Kenseth said of the effects of the low-downforce package. "The corner speeds are slower, your acceleration is a little bit more. Since they took away the horsepower, it gives you some of that acceleration back because you have less aerodynamic drag. There's less grip, less ill aero effects behind other cars back in traffic. I think it can give definitely more opportunities to pass if you catch a car, especially if some of these tracks are aero sensitive to what we currently have."

There will be some variables involved with the new aero package, however. Different tracks will have different tire packages and gear ratios.

"There are going to be some challenges," said Martin Truex Jr. "Goodyear (tire company) has probably got the biggest challenge. At certain tracks it's going to be really tough to develop a tire that does what we want it to do. But it's going to put it more in the drivers' hands, where cars drive better in traffic and worse by themselves. That's really what we're all looking for."

A softer tire used with the low-drag package worked well at Darlington, and will likely be a template for the 2016 package.

"That's the direction we'll go in 2016," said Greg Stucker, Goodyear's director of racing. "We felt like the softer package gave us more options. We'll try to do that same optimization for every race track that you saw at Darlington. Drivers thought that was a good match."

Like Edwards and Truex, Dale Earnhardt Jr. preaches patience.

"I wouldn't be looking for some dramatic change, but I think the drivers are happy about it," Earnhardt said. "It's going to be a process so I wish people would try to be patient. We have to allow Goodyear to tune a tire for this package and that is not going to happen on the first attempt at all these races. They can't have an issue where we are having tire problems and the tires aren't lasting. They have to creep in on this deal and kind of bring the softer tire little steps at a time. It's going to take some time to sort of get there."

Although Edwards won at Darlington, Joey Logano still enjoyed the race and the low-downforce package.

"Darlington has been a race track in the past that's been kind of tough to see a great race," Logano said. "This year is one of the best races we've had all year. The only thing that's different is the rules package and a softer tire to go along with it.

"Heck yeah, it was perfect. What else do you want to hear? It's obviously going in the right direction. I'm not against going more someday. But this is a great step to see where it takes us next year. It will be a lot of fun to be part of it."