Drivers happy to stop testing '15 packages

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Beyond making him feel good, putting a little extra money in his pocket and adding a trophy to the case, Matt Kenseth's victory Sunday in the Pure Michigan 400 won't mean all that much when looking ahead to the rest of 2015.

Kenseth led 146 of the 200 laps, including 64 of the last 75, in a race that did little to excite anyone not wearing Kenseth gear. NASCAR's experiment of its high-drag package is batting 0-for-2 as it produced little of the drafting and slingshot passing that it was designed to do.

"I definitely felt like we had the fastest car by a fair margin for today's day and age," Kenseth said. "I was glad I didn't mess that up."

Excluding green-flag pit stops, there were only two official green-flag lead changes -- when Austin Dillon passed Carl Edwards for the lead on a restart and then got passed by Kenseth a lap later. Dillon and Kenseth also traded the lead during a lap after a late restart.

The most entertaining parts of the day possibly were the postrace interviews, in which drivers had their own version of "I'm just here so I won't get fined" moments when asked about the package.

Second-place finisher Kevin Harvick said: "I'm really proud of my team and the things that they did to prepare for the race, and we had a good, strong day."

Sixth-place finisher Carl Edwards said: "Man, just a great day for JGR."

Ninth-place finisher Brad Keselowski said: "It's not my deal. It's not my right to say. It's not my sport. Whatever they want to do, I'll race it. It's my job. We saw almost exactly what everyone thought we'd see. I'd let you guys be the judge if it was good or bad."

Edwards at least analyzed the future of the high-drag setup, which included a taller spoiler (9 inches instead 6) that included a 1-inch wicker bill, a bigger radiator pan (43 inches instead of 38) and a 2.25-inch rear bumper extension toward the ground.

"I don't think we'll be running this one again," Edwards said.

The drivers never embraced the package, which has had less-than-scintillating runs at Indy and now Michigan. They seemed genuinely excited about the low-downforce package NASCAR experimented with in June at Kentucky and will use again Labor Day weekend at Darlington. NASCAR already has told the teams that with the exception of possible changes to the restrictor-plate race at Talladega, there will be no additional experiments. In the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the teams will run the 2015 package they have used at most events this year.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel," said Denny Hamlin, a teammate of Kenseth's who helped organize a drivers' council to give feedback to NASCAR. "We've seen what's best and hopefully these NASCAR fans are going to get what they want here in the future."

A NASCAR spokesman would say only that it would evaluate the package.

The frustration of others had nothing to do with Kenseth, who appeared to clearly have the best car. Few appeared able to make a move on him, and it's quite possible that would have been the case no matter the package. Hamlin finished fifth and had virtually no hope of winning.

"The lead car has such a huge advantage with this [package]," Hamlin said. "They were able to run wide-open mostly. It's going to be hard for a second-place car to pass the leader when the leader can run wide-open.

"They had clean air all day. They had the fastest car. Those two things combine for a dominant win."

The only time a driver could pass was by getting enough momentum on the straightaway that the car could duck to the inside early enough that it didn't get disrupted in the turns.

Dillon probably had the best chance of beating Kenseth and ended up fourth after getting shuffled back on a late restart. Dillon was a little more positive than others about the package, but then again, he had just earned a career-best finish.

"His [Kenseth's] car was really good down the straightaway," Dillon said. "I got that one lead. Harvick pushed me [on the restart]. He got me a good push, and I got out front and had a couple runs on [Kenseth].

"The draft seemed to work pretty good for us, and I tried to pull under him off of [Turn] 2, almost had it clear, went into [Turn] 3, and looking back maybe I should have slid [in front of] him. But it would have been hard to keep out in front of him. He had a really strong car."

Prior to the final restart with 13 laps remaining, Joey Logano tried a somewhat daring move. He gave up track position for fresh right-side tires. He restarted 11th but could improve only four spots to seventh.

That is exactly what NASCAR was not looking for and has troubled NASCAR with other aerodynamic packages. NASCAR wants it to mean something when drivers take tires, that someone with a faster car will be able to make a pass -- not necessarily an easy pass, but at least not stall when behind another car.

"After we got to seventh there, the cars in front of us were faster cars and could just drive back away," Logano said. "The tires didn't make up as much as we'd like, but it did some. I guess."

Would Logano like to see this package again?

"No," he said.

Edwards might have been Kenseth's biggest challenger, but his race was heavily impacted on a restart with 75 laps remaining when he felt Dillon jumped the restart, going before Edwards had hammered the gas. Edwards, as the leader, controlled the restart.

"Austin took off and I don't know why they didn't call it," Edwards said. "The restarts are so important, especially with this package, it is difficult to pass. Austin got away with it. He did what he had to do."

But Dillon couldn't beat Kenseth on the restarts, where Kenseth admitted that he was dependent on getting a push. At Indianapolis, Harvick had the race all but won and Kyle Busch got past him on a restart when Martin Truex Jr. didn't get a good jump and failed to push Harvick. Truex plainly admitted afterward he cost Harvick the victory.

Fortunately for Kenseth, he had his teammate Hamlin behind him for that final restart.

"You felt a little helpless on those restarts," Kenseth said. "It was tough to get away for a little bit."

The driver who felt the most helpless was Clint Bowyer, whose crash on Lap 125 resulted in him finishing 36 laps down in 41st. In the standings, Bowyer saw his margin cut from 50 points to 23 points ahead of Aric Almirola for the final Chase for the Sprint Cup spot. That would change, though, if someone outside the top 15 wins a race in the final three regular-season events, creating one fewer spot for a winless driver to make the 16-driver Chase.

Kenseth has no such worries. He has three victories this year in a season much better than his winless 2014. He snapped a 51-race winless streak with his victory in April at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"These are all really big races," Kenseth said. "To win at the Sprint Cup level to me is a huge deal.

"It's something that doesn't happen very often, and you have to enjoy each and every one of them. ... We went 50 races or something like that without a win [before April], so you'd better enjoy them all and appreciate them all."