NASCAR is weeks away from making a small but significant change to its car, one that could dramatically impact how races run from here on out.
NASCAR will be removing the rear wings on cars and replacing them with spoilers, which had been in use until just a few years ago. Fans and drivers alike had complained that the wings had reduced the cars' maneuverability and made races into long, boring parades. So, credit NASCAR on making the change.
NASCAR has been testing the spoiler for several months now, and is likely to make the shift official later this month. "If the industry benefits from the fans seeing a more traditional piece and that works for us, can we mechanically do the things that the wing presents as an advantage with a spoiler?" NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "During the course of research, we figured out how to do that."
Yes, but ... the season has already started. The big question, thus, is whether the shift from wing to spoiler will impact competition on the track. This might not be as big a difference as, say, baseball switching from wood to aluminum bats in midseason, but there will be a measurable difference, and it will take time for teams to adjust.
This isn't as significant a change as the switch to the Car of Tomorrow a couple years back. That change was monumental; past champions like Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon took years to adjust to the new car, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. still hasn't. Regarding this change, Jeff Burton, among others, has said there will be, in effect, two seasons in NASCAR — Wing Season and Spoiler Season.
NASCAR has had its travails over the opening three weeks of the season, from a pothole at Daytona to malfunctioning caution lights at Las Vegas this past weekend. Still, the sport has shown a willingness to make changes to benefit the action on the track and spur fan interest.
Now it's up to the drivers to figure out how to catch up to four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, who's already on a two-race winning streak. A spoiler might not do the trick; the field might have to start looking into jet engines.