Race cars aren’t supposed to be easy to drive

Aric Almirola saves his car from a complete spin during qualifying(Photo: Getty Images)


The practice and qualifying sessions held the day before Sunday’s Wise Power 400 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California did not provide the typical sights and sounds from such a happening. Often, practice and qualifying sessions tend to play out with few if any incidents as drivers log laps then report what they have felt from behind the wheel to their crews. After that, they then go out and attempt to run the fastest single lap they possibly can in order to secure a good starting spot for the main event.

Saturday’s track time for the NASCAR Cup Series provided much more drama than is usually the case. Several drivers had issues in one way or another throughout the relatively short time on the track. And it wasn’t just back-marker cars and drivers experiencing misfortune. Former champions such as Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick along with race winning drivers Aric Almirola and William Byron were among those to either spin or tag the outside wall.

Each racer who experienced problems made a similar statement when asked what went wrong. “This car is hard to drive” or something along that line was the most common comment. Note though that no one really complained that the car was too hard to drive, they simply stated that it is indeed difficult.

Drivers and teams got what they asked for after testing the Next Gen car during the off-season. After trying multiple packages on various tracks, NASCAR ultimately went with the recommendation made by its competitors and instituted a rules package that would place a four-inch spoiler on the back of the car for most tracks with engine rules that produce 670-horsepower.

Unless last weekend’s activities at Auto Club were some sort of aberration and the racing on those tracks measuring 1.5 to 2 miles returns to what had been the norm during the past decade, the new car with its current rules package appears to be a challenge to drive. In some ways, it almost harkens back to the 1970’s when cars with short spoilers which were not overly aero-dependent put the stars of the sport to the test on a weekly basis.

Racing at the sport’s highest level should be challenging. The average person should not be able to watch from the grandstands and evenly remotely entertain the thought that they could do what Kyle Busch or Kyle Larson does. I know that no matter what type of car or package is in use that I could drive as fast as one of the stars in the Cup Series just like I can watch a basketball game and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not guard Steph Curry.

But at the same, I’m not sure a novice fan watching NASCAR over the past two or three seasons would think that way, especially after hearing drivers tell interviewers that they were holding the car wide-open and it never slipped a wheel.

Recently, NASCAR legend Mark Martin took to Twitter to voice his enthusiasm for the Next Gen car and how challenging it is proving to be.

“Watching these guys spin out trying to qualify is what driving in @NASCAR is about. (Handclap emoji) Cup cars should be the one of the hardest cars to drive in motorsports. As a driver if you want to succeed in Cup you better pack your lunch,” the winner of 40 Cup Series and 49 Xfinity Series races declared.

Martin went on point out that the previous machine used by NASCAR Cup Series teams made the sport appear too easy.

“Driving around wide open easy is for amateurs. Not the greatest drivers in the world.”

Many who follow NASCAR as well as the competitors themselves have asked for a car that will challenge the stock car racing’s best rather than be a bulletproof, easy to drive cruiser. If this past weekend proves to be an accurate picture of what lies ahead, everyone may have gotten what they hoped for.

It certainly appears as if driving a race car at the sport’s top level not only looks hard, but is hard. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Race cars should be hard to drive so that those who race them are tested to the limit of their skill level every time they take to the track.

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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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