New Kentucky rules package could be game changer

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 26:  David Ragan, driver of the #55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

SONOMA, CA – JUNE 26: David Ragan, driver of the #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

SONOMA, Calif. – David Ragan thinks—and hopes—the new NASCAR Sprint Cup rules package instituted for the July 11 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway will shift the balance of power in the series.

The rules changes include a reduction in rear spoiler height from six inches to 3.5 inches, a reduction in splitter overhang and a smaller splitter extension panel, the net effect of which will be a significant reduction in downforce.

“Kentucky—that’s going to really change the dynamic of what the Cup series looks like,” Ragan opined at Thursday’s Sonoma Raceway luncheon in San Francisco. “If some teams really hit on this new aero package, it could be a big deal.

“If we continue to run the (new) aero package at all the downforce tracks, which I think is going to happen, it could change the landscape of who we normally see up front.”

In early May, Ragan replaced Brian Vickers in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota after Vickers suffered a recurrence of blood clots, a condition that has sidelined Vickers periodically over the past five years. Ragan began the season with Front Row Motorsports before spending nine races in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry, subbing for injured Kyle Busch.

The way Ragan sees it, the new rules could bring a significant reshuffling of the series.

“I think everyone at Toyota and MWR, if we can make some of the right decisions and build some of the cars that are suited for this aero package, we could find ourselves in a good spot for the summer months,” Ragan told the NASCAR Wire Service.

“It’s not just a small little change. This change is going to move the needle. It changes the aero balance of these cars, and so the setups that we’ve been running—I’m no engineer, so don’t expect me to get too technical with you—but I think it shifts the balance enough and moves the needle enough … the good guys are still going to be good, but it’s definitely going to restructure some of the front-running guys, in my opinion.”

SHORT STROKES

Before opening practice on Friday, Sonoma Raceway and Save Mart Supermarkets announced a five-year extension of Save Mart’s co-title sponsorship of the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at the 1.99-mile road course. … Clint Bowyer, the 2012 winner at Sonoma, led opening practice with a lap at 95.547 mph. Kyle Busch, who scored his only victory at the track in 2008, topped the speed chart in final practice at 96.175 mph. … One of the pre-race favorites, road course ace AJ Allmendinger, was second fastest in opening practice but 23rd during Happy Hour.  Five-time Sonoma winner Jeff Gordon was 15th quickest in the first session and sixth in final practice in preparation for his last race at the road course as a full-time driver.

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