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May 3, 2024 1:00 pm

Focus shifts to Kansas for frustrated drivers

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As the NASCAR Cup Series looked ahead to Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway, much of the talk about last week’s race regarded the frustrations of falling behind.

As teams prepare for the season’s 12th race, a 267-lapper in Kansas City, Kan., drivers voiced concerns about the current Next Gen car, specifically how it has become a defensive asset instead of an offensive weapon.

Following last Saturday’s qualifying session and pole-winning lap at Dover, two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch said the car has better value essentially as a blocking tool than for pulling out and roaring by the car in front of him.

That manifested Sunday as Busch fought to get by former teammate Martin Truex Jr. but did not have the force in his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to move up a position.

“The aero blocking is just so bad,” Busch said after running fourth. “It’s so bad and everybody knows it and uses it as a defense item.”

Basically, getting the lead, moving around and making the car wider to prevent a second-place driver from being triumphant, is now the path to success on the speedway ovals.

In the 1987 version of The Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt, who would have turned 73 this week, famously frustrated Bill Elliott in the 10-lap dash for a $200,000 payout.

Despite his No. 9 Ford Thunderbird being faster, an angry Elliott could not pass Earnhardt’s blue and yellow No. 3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo in a race that featured the Intimidator’s legendary “Pass in the Grass” en route to victory.

However, blocking has become more sophisticated with technology.

When Earnhardt shut down Elliott, it was drivers and rear-view mirrors — and eventually spotters in the late 1980s — getting them to Victory Lane.

Nowadays, drivers have a rear-view camera mounted to the top of their back window that allows the leader to look at his dashboard and track the car behind him, making aero blocking in the closing laps just a simple act of following wherever the trailing car moves and snuffing an opposing run.

Kyle Larson was running down Dover winner Denny Hamlin over the last 50 laps but could only get as close as 0.20 seconds from the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s No. 11 Toyota.

“It’s just so easy as the leader … (to air block),” said Larson after Hamlin’s series-tying third win. “You just shut off the air to the guys behind you. I knew that when I got to within three car-lengths he’d start moving around.”

In fairness, Larson admitted that his only victory, at Las Vegas in March, was achieved by the same move of blocking the progress of Tyler Reddick in the final circuits — now an oval track trend.

Larson, the 2021 champion, also suggested maybe doing away with the rear cameras would improve the racing.

While the series is constantly looking ahead to the schedule’s next race, rest assured these drivers will continue to be looking back at what’s closing in on them as the laps wind down.

–Field Level Media

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