Jimmie Johnson doesn’t see the downside of NASCAR adding a traction compound to the corners at certain tracks to help produce better racing.
NASCAR and Dover — the site of Sunday’s race — debated on putting the VHT substance in the corners of the concrete oval. The decision ultimately resulted in a no, but it was considered after the use of the compound at Bristol, a half-mile concrete oval.
Johnson, a 10-time winner at Dover, thinks using sticky stuff to add a second lane to tracks is a logical next step barring tracks overhauling their design. The VHT was added to the top groove at Charlotte Motor Speedway for last week’s Coca-Cola 600, but some of the effectiveness might have been washed off as the race was delayed 100 minutes by rain.
“As far as the traction compound, unless a track is willing to resurface or redesign their facility, I think that the traction compound is the next thing to try,” Johnson said Friday at Dover. “And I’ve said this a lot of times: The garage area has been forced to make a lot of changes to create competition or honestly, parity. And it’s just crazy for us to think when we have cars running the same speed, all 40 cars within such a small window of time, that we can expect any passing on the race track.
“So, we need other lanes on the track to pass. We need tires that wear out to create comers and goers. So, with that, I didn’t see anything negative from the traction compound. We’re learning. Do we wish it provided more side-by-side racing? Sure. It’s a tricky track in general. And I didn’t see anything negative that came from it. And if a track owner-operator isn’t willing to resurface and kind of redesign, then why not? I think there is something to try here and we will figure it out if we keep playing with it and we keep trying it and develop the process.”
The seven-time champion has a hell of a point. NASCAR has made its rules incredibly tight for teams with the goal of bunching the field as close together as possible. And it frequently touts just how close the competition is based off lap times and qualifying speeds.
Lap times separated by thousandths of a second look good on paper. But not in reality. You know how frustrating it is when you’re stuck behind two semi trucks on the interstate side-by-side going the same speed? It’s kind of like that with a whole bunch of other factors in the Cup Series. NASCAR drivers and teams feel your frustration.
It’s also another sign that cutting more downforce from Cup cars isn’t a cure-all for better racing. While it’s a huge step, NASCAR has also coupled downforce cuts with tighter rules regarding the rear-steer of cars and has penalized teams for manipulating the bodywork on cars before and during the race.
The decreased leniency in the rule book means that there’s less room for exploitation. Less room for ingenuity and exploitation means less speed discrepancy among teams. And, you got it, less speed discrepancy among teams means less passing. It’s why the VHT is worth a shot. But NASCAR or anyone else is kidding themselves if there’s any belief that traction compound is but a short-term solution.
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