Radical Proposal To Make Racing Awesome Again... From A 1980's Journeyman Driver

LewTheShoe

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"Driver X" has done a lot of thinking – and writing – to come up a with a template for a radically revised version of the sport he loves. Here is the first of a four-part series on what needs to change and why.

[Note: I'll reveal the driver at the end of this post... don't want his identity to color your receptivity to his observations and suggestions about what ails today's racing... as a sport and as a business.]

For some time now, and for whatever reason, there seem to be a lot of negative comments and chatter from people inside the business as well as from fans. Why is that? How did we arrive at this situation from a time not that long ago when things were mostly positive, viewership was huge, the cars were spectacular, we had some great personalities in the sport, superstar drivers racing the cars, and plenty of action and drama on the race track? Money was flowing into the business, and corporate sponsors as well as manufacturers were lining up to be part of the show.

Of course, there is not a simple answer to any of this. For sure, negativity today is partly due to easy access to social media for all, but it seems there are real elements of concern in the sport and they have arisen from a gradual process of poor decisions.

On the technical side, knee-jerk decisions were based on either a bad accident or complaints from fans about the racing not being good enough. Some decisions were based on pressure from certain teams or manufacturers to help them compete. And finally, but very importantly, a level of political correctness has crept in that has done nothing to make the racing any better, but has instead pushed costs through the roof, created greater division between the richest teams and others, and made the racing too predictable and less interesting to watch. [Note: political correctness includes OEM's pushing for racecars to be more relevant to road going cars. Racers don't care... they just want to RACE.]

As a result of all this, technology has evolved to where we are today, and most importantly, evolved to a point where budgets are into the stratosphere. At the same time, reliance on pay TV channels means significantly fewer viewers, so naturally there is less interest for sponsors to spend big money, as their metrics are primarily based on the number of eyeballs watching, and in particular, eyeballs with attractive demographics. Not all eyeballs are created equally in the minds of the sponsors. Hence, there are now numerous teams racing without one main sponsor, or if they do have one, it’s for a fraction of what a they used to pay.

Through all these various rule changes, racing has somehow lost its identity and I am not sure anyone really knows what it stands for anymore. I believe we are now at a point where another two or maybe three decisions in the wrong direction could spell the end of racing as we know it. People are already tuning out because they have either lost interest or it’s too predictable or not exciting enough. The younger generation doesn’t seem to care and motorsport in general is struggling to catch their attention.

In order to reach a solution that has the right balance between Economics, Competition, Entertainment, and Relevance, it's important to first identify the individual areas that matter the most, focus on getting these right, and eliminate the areas that matter least.

Part 1: Economics

The major cost is in the constant development war, with aerodynamics and engines being the largest contributors of excessive expense. I strongly believe that the current concept of racecar design needs a complete reset. There has been no real innovation in racing since the discovery of aerodynamics. It is always the first priority. It’s the #1 factor in driving the costs higher, it’s the #1 factor in making the racing less interesting, it has no relevance to anything automotive, yet it’s been the primary focus in every single form of racing the past 30 years or more. It’s time for a major reset.

There has been much discussion about a cost cap, and how to implement it. I don’t believe you can ever entirely control a fixed cost cap because teams will always find a way to circumvent a rule like that. The most effective way in my opinion is to limit the development in all the key areas on the cars that are irrelevant in the bigger picture. There are many areas or components on a car that I believe could be standardized and no one would even know or notice the difference.

[There is a lot more in the article about Economics... both cost control and revenue management. Part 2 comes tomorrow... Competition. Parts 3 and 4 will be Entertainment and Relevance. But what do you think so far? Is this a driver from the 1980's who "gets it" and isn't shy about a pattern of poor decisions that got us to here? Blame for the TV executives who care little about racing? The unfortunate evils of technology running amok, and how to disarm the engineering wars? Click the "spoiler button" below...]

The article is from Motorsport.com and was authored by Stefan Johansson. He raced F1 in the 1980's for McLaren, Ferrari and others. He started 73 IndyCar races, including the Indy 500 three times. He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He's currently business manager/agent for IndyCar star Scott Dixon and others. And Johansson's four-part article is about F1's crisis, not the decline of Nascar, where he has never raced.

As I read this article, I was struck by the parallels between F1's situation and Nascar's. It is instructive for Nascar fans to know that we are not alone... the perils facing Nascar are similar in many ways to the perils facing other forms of racing... similar historical origins, similar present maladies, and similar potential solutions. There are also differences, for sure, but fewer than we sometimes think, IMO.

https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/johansson-proposal-f1-awesome-economics/4374192/
 

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The major cost is in the constant development war, with aerodynamics and engines being the largest contributors of excessive expense. I strongly believe that the current concept of racecar design needs a complete reset. There has been no real innovation in racing since the discovery of aerodynamics. It is always the first priority. It’s the #1 factor in driving the costs higher, it’s the #1 factor in making the racing less interesting, it has no relevance to anything automotive, yet it’s been the primary focus in every single form of racing the past 30 years or more. It’s time for a major reset.
Thank God someone that is at least in the business in the past said this. I've been saying this for a couple years. It's worse for open wheel in comparison to stock cars, open wheel have wings that are less than relevant to road car design, expensive to design, expensive to replace, the front wings are required to be replaced more than any other car component due to racing wheel-to-wheel damage, and due to aerowash they actually decrease competition.
 

LewTheShoe

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I see your intended point (it exists in all motorsports, btw). I can move it back to the nascar forum if you'd like?
Please do. I believe it is illuminating for Nascar fans to be reminded that the challenges facing Nascar are pretty doggone similar to the challenges facing all other forms of racing as well. Each form of racing has some unique elements and nuances, but by-and-large, we are all in the same boat.

Johansson's long and detailed article makes this point, IMO. It was written with F1 in mind, but if it is read from a Nascar point of view, it sounds very much like it could have come from Bob Pockrass or Matt Weaver or Nate Ryan or Adam Stern.

Here at R-F, it is popular to lay it all off on France family mismanagement... Bill France Jr. for the mile-and-a-halfs and Brian France for the chase/playoff format. I'm no fan of France family management, particularly Brian France, but it is counterproductive to just blame it all on them. So that's why I believe it can be an interesting and worthwhile discussion in the Nascar forum.
 

Charlie Spencer

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If anyone else is wondering, a link to the original material is in the spoiler.
It takes somebody with a marketing and business background to fully grasp where motorsports as a whole currently stand.

The sad part is that the racers that like to put on events, don't always have this knowledge...
This reminds me of great cooks who want to run their own restaurants, not realizing that running a business requires a different set of skills. Or anyone else who's good at something and tries to 'go pro'.
 

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A great article and I am glad it was posted on here as this is the only section I read.
Can't wait for the other articles.
LTS if it gets moved please send me a link to the 3 other parts. Thanks.
 

LewTheShoe

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Thank God someone that is at least in the business in the past said this. I've been saying this for a couple years. It's worse for open wheel in comparison to stock cars, open wheel have wings that are less than relevant to road car design, expensive to design, expensive to replace, the front wings are required to be replaced more than any other car component due to racing wheel-to-wheel damage, and due to aerowash they actually decrease competition.
The physical laws of aerodynamics have always existed, but the science of understanding and using these laws to make a racecar faster is really fairly recent. F1 was ahead of Nascar in realizing the magic of downforce, but Nascar got there during the 1990's. Yeah, I agree with you, aero has screwed up just about every major form of auto racing.

The racing industry can never unlearn what they have learned, but I think Johansson pulls together many good ideas about mitigating the negative effects of aero-dependent racing. Some will think it's unfortunate that standardized common components in certain key areas seem to be part of the answer, according to Johansson.

@Team Penske... part 2 of his article is here...
https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/johansson-proposal-f1-awesome-competition/4374275/

Johansson's recipe for improved competition sounds a lot like the people on here - such as me - favoring Nascar's 2018 rules, not the 2019 rules... More power, higher top speeds, less downforce, slower cornering speeds, longer braking zones.
 

LewTheShoe

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This reminds me of great cooks who want to run their own restaurants, not realizing that running a business requires a different set of skills. Or anyone else who's good at something and tries to 'go pro'.
Many of the best, most successful race team owners have come from the ranks of drivers who never had great success behind the wheel. Of current Nascar Cup owners, Childress, Ganassi, and Penske come to mind.
 

gnomesayin

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Johansson's recipe for improved competition sounds a lot like the people on here - such as me - favoring Nascar's 2018 rules, not the 2019 rules... More power, higher top speeds, less downforce, slower cornering speeds, longer braking zones.
Yes, I completely agree with that ethic on every count. I strongly disagree with any approach that runs counter to those objectives in the name of 'closer' racing.

In terms of Johansson's article, I struggle to agree with his claim that there hasn't been any "real" innovation in racing since aerodynamics were first discovered. I don't know what "real" means to him, and he hasn't spelled it out in a way that I accept. To my mind there has been continual innovation ever since both in understanding of aerodynamic effects and other areas like suspension, engines, etc. Perhaps these innovations are incremental and not wholesale, but that is what happens as something matures.

He is writing primarily about F1 and open wheel racing, so his allusion to "political correctness" seems targeted at hybrid engines, ERS, and similar initiatives. These are major innovations too, just not ones he believes improve the racing. I can respect that view, and my own views are complicated. I'm not someone who is generally too concerned with "street car relevance". My favorite cars are sprint cars, heh. Try to find something relevant to driving on the open roads there. However, different racing series serve different purposes, and there is utility for manufacturers in street relevance, perceived or real, depending on how the series is positioned.

Overall, it's an interesting piece that makes many good points. I'm glad the thread didn't get deleted and am interested to hear others' thoughts.
 
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sdj

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Stated above:
Yeah, I agree with you, aero has screwed up just about every major form of auto racing.

Yes it has.

But the aero thing stems from fuel mileage wars in the cars and trucks we drive today and as a natural course of events, it has found it's way into racing. But at the same time, the rules in racing apply to all involved and at that point money talks and BS walks. As some one said earlier, you can not unlearn what you have learned.
 

aunty dive

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Aerodynamics and its influence on racecars of all kinds is a function of velocity.

Double the speed and downforce and drag increase by a factor of 4. There is no way around that. Small wonder that race teams expend resources to manage airflow to advantage.
 

LewTheShoe

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In terms of Johansson's article, I struggle to agree with his claim that there hasn't been any "real" innovation in racing since aerodynamics were first discovered.
A fair point. Maybe Johansson is saying that most racecar innovative effort has gone into aerodynamics in recent decades, which has stifled innovation in non-aero areas. And he further dismisses aero work as largely irrelevant to the OEM's road going products, in addition to its detrimental impact on the quality of racing as a sport.

At least give credit to Johansson for this... parts 1 and 2 of his article refrain from mentioning Ray Harroun's 1911 Indy 500 rear view mirror innovation... although we'll have to wait for parts 3 and 4 to be sure this holds up..:oops:
He is writing primarily about F1 and open wheel racing, so his allusion to "political correctness" seems targeted at hybrid engines, ERS, and similar initiatives. These are major innovations too, just not ones he believes improve the racing.
Another good point on innovations. He claims F1 is held hostage by OEM's and the FIA wanting to deliver a politically correct message, despite the double whammy of high costs and less interesting racing. And one can question if Nascar is on this same path with talk of overhead cams, turbos, IRS, etc. I have no facts really, but I'm curious about these new ideas (that really aren't new at all, except to Nascar). The notion of Relevance will be discussed more in Part 4.

Part 3 is now up... Entertainment. In Nascar, competition versus entertainment is at the core of the debate about Nascar's philosophy of racing. It remains a keystone issue to Nascar, I believe. We have discussed it here in depth. Johansson just reiterates a few points that he thinks should hook the audience. @Team Penske take note...

https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/johansson-proposal-f1-awesome-entertainment/4374294/

Postscript... Ray Harroun did not appear in part 3. Three down, one to go, LOL.
 

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The physical laws of aerodynamics have always existed, but the science of understanding and using these laws to make a racecar faster is really fairly recent. F1 was ahead of Nascar in realizing the magic of downforce, but Nascar got there during the 1990's. Yeah, I agree with you, aero has screwed up just about every major form of auto racing.

The racing industry can never unlearn what they have learned, but I think Johansson pulls together many good ideas about mitigating the negative effects of aero-dependent racing. Some will think it's unfortunate that standardized common components in certain key areas seem to be part of the answer, according to Johansson.

@Team Penske... part 2 of his article is here...
https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/johansson-proposal-f1-awesome-competition/4374275/

Johansson's recipe for improved competition sounds a lot like the people on here - such as me - favoring Nascar's 2018 rules, not the 2019 rules... More power, higher top speeds, less downforce, slower cornering speeds, longer braking zones.
Thanks for posting this, it was a great read. Is their any chance that Nascar would read this and implement the changes suggested?
 

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Good article so far. Thanks for that. Certainly are many parallels with NASCAR. I do believe that the COT's arrival, subsequent aero era, and schedule shifting more towards aero tracks (yes, I understand aero matters everywhere--shaddup about it) damaged the racing. Most constructive common sense stuff like this is sadly dismissed by governing bodies and for whatever reason and we get things like aero ducts instead. I have no faith in NASCAR management but maybe with Jim France in charge the Gen 7 isn't a lost cause. That's about all the optimism I have left. I used to enjoy talking about this stuff more but I've grown weary of the spoiler and splitter roulette.
 

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I would have thought that the innovation in racing that a driver would have been interested in would have been all the advances in safety. From the 1980's through today drivers are much safer. They ain't safe but they are safer.
 

LewTheShoe

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I would have thought that the innovation in racing that a driver would have been interested in would have been all the advances in safety. From the 1980's through today drivers are much safer. They ain't safe but they are safer.
Good point. Very true in F1, Nascar, and most every other form of racing as well. Add in the very valid points about innovation that @gnomesayin posted above, and it would appear that Johansson over-reached severely when he said, "There has been no real innovation in racing since the discovery of aerodynamics."

BTW, the entire article is available at Johansson's website, and also an option to download a PDF file...
https://www.stefanjohansson.com/blog/make-racing-awesome-again

The final part 4 can be seen there, and it comes up a little flat in terms of parallels between F1 and Nascar. In the Nascar context, the most interesting nugget is Johansson repeating his call to ratchet down aerodynamics as a design and engineering priority...
ELIMINATE THE IMPORTANCE OF AERODYNAMICS: I’m repeating myself here, but it’s important to understand that aerodynamics is the only item that falls under all four categories that are the key areas... Economics, Competition, Entertainment, Relevance. The fact that aerodynamics is affecting all four categories in a negative way should be a wakeup call more than anything. Aerodynamics have the least relevance (to the real world) of anything on a racecar... Yet it’s the highest spend by a massive margin for every team. It’s the largest contributor to the lack of good racing, and the entertainment is suffering because of this, yet we just keep on piling on more and more of the same! Eliminate the importance of aerodynamics and shift the focus to other areas to gain back the speed. I have already addressed the details on how to achieve this earlier in the article. (From part 1, use certain spec parts and downforce limits to mitigate aero effects, plus more power.)
 

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I agree with eliminating most down force as well as take 500 lbs off the car and make better tires
that have lots of fall off after 25 laps.
 

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People on the interwebs seem to care more about what downforce NASCAR is running than the majority of people watching on TV.
 

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Yes, I completely agree with that ethic on every count. I strongly disagree with any approach that runs counter to those objectives in the name of 'closer' racing.

In terms of Johansson's article, I struggle to agree with his claim that there hasn't been any "real" innovation in racing since aerodynamics were first discovered. I don't know what "real" means to him, and he hasn't spelled it out in a way that I accept. To my mind there has been continual innovation ever since both in understanding of aerodynamic effects and other areas like suspension, engines, etc. Perhaps these innovations are incremental and not wholesale, but that is what happens as something matures.

He is writing primarily about F1 and open wheel racing, so his allusion to "political correctness" seems targeted at hybrid engines, ERS, and similar initiatives. These are major innovations too, just not ones he believes improve the racing. I can respect that view, and my own views are complicated. I'm not someone who is generally too concerned with "street car relevance". My favorite cars are sprint cars, heh. Try to find something relevant to driving on the open roads there. However, different racing series serve different purposes, and there is utility for manufacturers in street relevance, perceived or real, depending on how the series is positioned.
That understanding of aerodynamic effects is meaningless though. It has no relevance to roadcars because we don't drive single-seater rear-engine cars with wings on the front and rear. And also, this is peanuts in the grand scheme of things. Sukhoi and other Russian aircraft manufacturers laugh at the level of aerodynamic understanding that goes on in F1. In terms of grand society, it's like expending millions of dollars to carve out a minor fractional advantage to win in a minor league baseball game. I remember when Audi raced their diesel at Le Mans and it was treated as this huge thing. First, the ACO's rules were written to pretty much guarantee that Audi would win. Second, I was an engineer for Cummins at the time. The engine in that Audi had nothing on the development we did every day because Audi's engine had nothing to deal with emissions, which is the prime development focus in engines of increase or keep the same performance vs. reduce reduce reduce emissions.

Open wheel racing I think to save the sport they have to just ban wings some point in the future. I have absolutely no problem with higher-performance cars or maybe more road relevant stuff like hybrid engines or electric engines being more expensive. I do have a problem with teams that take all those extra costs and lay it at the feet of the driver to cover.

As far as NASCAR, it's aided by the car being at least somewhat production-based which gets rid of some of the aerodynamics ridiculousness of open wheel/single seaters. But why for instance do we have splitters? What does this component add? NASCAR used to have rear wings briefly. They at least got rid of those.
 
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On aero, F1 to make the show better has DRS, "drag reduction system". On specific straightaways they have it setup so that if you are within 2 seconds of a car in front of you, part of your rear wing will collapse and you have this rectangular hole in it along its length, and it acts to help you pick up ground and potentially make a pass. That's a clear admittance of "aerodynamics is the problem".
 

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The Honda Civic has a splitter, a flip-up on the deck lid and an aggressive angle of attack.

Why?
 

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The Honda Civic has a splitter, a flip-up on the deck lid and an aggressive angle of attack.

Why?
Splitter for the Civic is probably an aerodynamic device that in a minor way improves fuel mileage of the Civic by controlling the air flow that goes underneath the car. It also likely acts as a minor skid plate.

NASCAR Cup cars are not subject to federal fuel mileage regulations. If the reason they run splitters is for fuel mileage, there are far better and more noticeable ways to do it. Also, the NASCAR splitters have much less ground clearance than a Civic does, leading to the risk of them digging into the grass any time a guy goes through and potentially completely destroying the front end of the car.

So as far as I can tell all the splitter is there for is to increase aerodynamics-dependent speed of the cars, with a component that is spec for the whole field. Adds cost, reduces competition, increases the likelihood of severe car damage.
 

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The civic, like every other road car currently produced, has those features because they generate an increasing amount of downforce as speed rises.

The resultant stability is, among other things, a safety feature.
 

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Why does Nascar have splitters? Splitters by themselves, create downforce. They use them in the lower series on much smaller tracks and they aren't for looks. Even with the slower speeds they have there the splitters add downforce. In Nascar with the higher speeds at the larger tracks, they are an important safety item also in addition to downforce. I think in today's climate, if there were a dozen or more Kyle Larson type Talladega wrecks there would be a movement started for banning racing or banning racing at super speedways. There already is a post up in arms about that wreck posted here and a public announcement from Nascar that they are going to look into it. Love em or hate em, they have to have them.
 

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Personally, I think Nascar is far ahead of the aero problem than either F-1 or Indycars. They are trying to keep the cars right side up, while using the air to create closer racing opportunities and the ability to pass each other. But comparing open wheel to a stock car is apples and oranges all day long
 

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Why does Nascar have splitters? Splitters by themselves, create downforce. They use them in the lower series on much smaller tracks and they aren't for looks. Even with the slower speeds they have there the splitters add downforce. In Nascar with the higher speeds at the larger tracks, they are an important safety item also in addition to downforce.

...I think in today's climate, if there were a dozen or more Kyle Larson type Talladega wrecks there would be a movement started for banning racing or banning racing at super speedways. There already is a post up in arms about that wreck posted here and a public announcement from Nascar that they are going to look into it. Love em or hate em, they have to have them.
Daytona and Talladega were made obsolete in 1987. We're 32 years on from Allison's crash and they have yet to change the tracks. I once saw NASCAR congratulate Keselowski after sending Edwards airborne into a catch fence at start-finish where a ton of spectators were because he did not go below the double yellow line. I treat all safety-related things when it comes to Daytona and Talladega with a little contempt in other words.

Don't you think these cars would naturally go slower through the corners and therefore slower lap times if they had less downforce on them? (Excepting Daytona and Talladega.) Everyone hates 1.5s, part of it is these cars are stuck to the ground in corners and don't move.
 

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Daytona and Talladega were made obsolete in 1987. We're 32 years on from Allison's crash and they have yet to change the tracks. I once saw NASCAR congratulate Keselowski after sending Edwards airborne into a catch fence at start-finish where a ton of spectators were because he did not go below the double yellow line. I treat all safety-related things when it comes to Daytona and Talladega with a little contempt in other words.

Don't you think these cars would naturally go slower through the corners and therefore slower lap times if they had less downforce on them? (Excepting Daytona and Talladega.) Everyone hates 1.5s, part of it is these cars are stuck to the ground in corners and don't move.
obviously I don't think so. I'm not one that hates the 1.5's in fact in the truck series, they prove to be some of the best races of the weekend in the Nascar series. This year in cup the 1.5's with the new package the races have been a bit better. And Nascar has already started trying to improve it with the changes they are making to the car at this years All Star race.
 

Charlie Spencer

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Daytona and Talladega were made obsolete in 1987. We're 32 years on from Allison's crash and they have yet to change the tracks. I once saw NASCAR congratulate Keselowski after sending Edwards airborne into a catch fence at start-finish where a ton of spectators were because he did not go below the double yellow line. I treat all safety-related things when it comes to Daytona and Talladega with a little contempt in other words.

Don't you think these cars would naturally go slower through the corners and therefore slower lap times if they had less downforce on them? (Excepting Daytona and Talladega.) Everyone hates 1.5s, part of it is these cars are stuck to the ground in corners and don't move.
I don’t care how safe they may be able to run. I will never enjoy racing where one driver is dependent on another, whether due to aero or any other reason. NASCAR ain’t F1 with manufacturer orders.
 
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