What to expect from NASCAR's 2019 Cup series rules package

Las Vegas will host two of 16 races with a target of 550 horsepower and air ducts through the front of the wheel wells. Will Lester/Icon Sportswire

Most companies look at their product as their first priority. NASCAR does the same in many ways. When NASCAR president Steve Phelps met with the media last week, he said the top priority is to have the best racing possible.

That makes sense. But there's a catch. If NASCAR put 10 fans in a room and asked them to watch five races and then rank them in the order of best racing, it probably would get 10 different lists.

The 2019 NASCAR Cup Series rules package that was announced on Tuesday will certainly create different racing. The package will slow the cars down on tracks larger than 1.2 miles, as all of those races will have engines where the air flow is designed to create 550 horsepower -- 200 horsepower lower than what is used this year and will continue to be used at tracks less than 1.2 miles. The lone exception is the Daytona 500, which will be the last that will have restrictor plates and 400 horsepower.

All races on the NASCAR circuit for the past several years all have had restricted air flow through the engines. NASCAR has just used a 1-inch-thick spacer and not a plate at most tracks. So this is nothing new -- it just might be new to some fans because when the spacers were introduced, NASCAR was so afraid to publicize them over fear that fans would look at them as restrictor plates.

NASCAR has a bigger rear spoiler -- from 2.375 inches high to 8 inches high -- for 2019 and a front splitter that will jut out 2 inches instead of one-quarter inch from the front of the car. All of that will increase downforce and drag.

There also will be ducts that push air through the front wheel wells for 16 races -- all tracks larger than 1.5-mile tracks except for Daytona 500, both Pocono races, Atlanta, Darlington and Homestead.

So what does it all mean? NASCAR says it hopes it will mean closer racing with more of an ability to pass.

What don't we know? We don't know the amount of drafting, thus giving drivers who normally don't challenge for wins a better opportunity.

There are two main reasons for this package: NASCAR believes it will create more excitement and more challenges for the lead. And it hopes to eventually to get to a point where if it can use a 550 horsepower engine for multiple races, it will entice more manufacturers to consider the sport and more new team owners because their engine bills won't be so high.

Here is what to look for with the new package beyond whether there are more lead changes:

Less appearance of engineering influence

The one thing that has the potential to be a strength of this package is NASCAR hopes that by increasing the portion of the splitter underneath the body of the car by 8 inches in some areas and altering the size of the radiator pan, it can create enough downforce and limit the teams' ability to create more downforce with certain bars and pieces that no longer will be practical.

NASCAR isn't going to take the engineering out of the sport. But fans need to believe the driver and crew chief make a difference, and not some piece from simulation designed in the back corner of the shop.

NASCAR can't have this be an engineering exercise. As its top racing boss, Steve O'Donnell, said, there just can't be one preferred racing groove. If this adds racing grooves, that helps.

Length of races

NASCAR says it is not looking at the length of races, even though the cars are going to be going slower on its biggest tracks.

It might not seem like a big concern, but if the races that already are more than three hours start creeping closer to 3.5 hours or four hours, that is not going to help when trying to keep fans' interest.

Tightening of the pack

NASCAR believes this won't necessarily create pack racing but it potentially could bring those who have struggled a little close to the front, especially at certain tracks where there could be more drafting.

The question is how much, and how much do they have a chance to win?

If drivers 25th, 27th and 29th in the standings win races thanks to drafting and keep more consistent drivers out of the playoffs, it could dilute the playoffs. NASCAR doesn't appear to be changing the rule that a driver must be top-30 in points to make the playoffs.

NASCAR has this rule in place because it wanted to create an underdog story and keep drivers in the championship hunt longer. One or two underdog stories could be fun. If it gets more than that, it won't seem all that great.

Talent vs. money

The biggest worry is if this package puts less in the driver's hands -- and that seems possible considering more downforce and slower speeds -- that it won't take as much talent to drive.

The byproduct of that is drivers who are self-funded or bring their sponsorship through a business connection could become even more of a viable option than they are now. NASCAR can't afford that. At all.

Manufacturer identity

Granted, there isn't much manufacturer identity left in NASCAR. But if the slower speeds hurt fans' perspective of their favorite manufacturer, or if this package damages a manufacturer's ability to use its tools to help develop the cars for its teams, then that could be an issue.

On the flip side, if that 550-horsepower target, along with potentially the next-generation car that will come in a few years, brings in a new manufacturer, that could be well worth it.

Great, not so great

Remember when tandem racing was somewhat intriguing, and then it got ridiculous as drivers needed help to make moves and the driver pushing didn't have any way to win?

NASCAR needs to make sure the excitement level is authentic enough that fans believe their driver always has a chance to make something happen, and not just need help -- and if that driver helps someone else, it isn't at the expense of having no chance to win.


Will fans care which package is being used which weekend? How will NASCAR educate fans? We'll do our part -- clip and save this -- for the packages for 2019:

16 races with target of 550 horsepower and air ducts through the front of the wheel wells: Las Vegas-1, California, Texas-1, Talladega-1, Kansas-1, Charlotte-1, Michigan-1, Chicagoland, Daytona-2, Kentucky, Michigan-2, Indianapolis, Las Vegas-2, Talladega-2, Kansas-2, Texas-2

5 races with target of 550 horsepower and no air ducts through the front of the wheel wells: Atlanta, Pocono-1, Pocono-2, Darlington, Homestead

14 races with target of 750 horsepower and no air ducts through the front of the wheel wells: Phoenix-1, Martinsville-1, Bristol-1, Richmond-1, Dover-1, Sonoma, New Hampshire, Watkins Glen, Bristol-2, Richmond-2, Charlotte-2 (road course), Dover-2, Martinsville-2, Phoenix-2

1 race will have the 2018 restrictor-plate package (7/8 plate with tapered spacer): Daytona 500