The competition package mandated for this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race features two significant components: a single-piece carbon-fiber splitter/pan and a radiator duct in the hood of the car.
From a “feel” standpoint, however, most drivers participating in practice sessions on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway couldn’t tell much difference between the configuration they have been running at intermediate speedways so far this year and the package for Saturday’s million-dollar event (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
But that doesn’t mean the feel was exactly the same.
“This place is just so weird, Charlotte is, as a track,” said Austin Dillon, who was strong in both Friday practice sessions at the 1.5-mile track, topping the speed chart in Final Practice. “It’s a lot different handling-wise.
“I feel like there are different things, obviously, with the splitter and how high the cars are. I think they handled a little differently in practice. Some people looked like they really struggled in traffic, but I felt like my car was decent in traffic. I feel like some of that is just getting the balance right, because we haven’t run this package.”
Though some cars benefited from the draft, particularly in the first session when the Open cars and All-Star cars ran together, Dillon believes there will still be a premium to being out front.
“I felt like clean air was still the fastest way for my car, but you could get a pull, for sure,” Dillon said. “A bigger pull, and I noticed it right off the bat running behind the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) coming to the green, that I could get a bigger pull than what we have been this year.”
NOTES & QUOTES
Though Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have combined to win every Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series except Talladega, Denny Hamlin feels other teams have closed the gap to the extent that JGR has been fortunate to pick up its recent victories.
“The Stewart-Haas cars are by far the fastest cars right now—by a whole lot,” Hamlin said. “It seems like, as an organization, we’ve had one car kind of hit it the last few weekends, but as an organization, we’ve struggled. We have not been very good, and really, it starts with practice when we unload. We have not been very good.
“I think that one of our cars has gotten lucky and hit it overnight, but other than that, I don’t feel like we’re the cream of the crop by far.”
Already a winner in the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, Austin Dillon would like nothing better than to win the Monster Energy All-Star Race at his home track.
“To have both races that you can win here on the oval covered—those are three big wins, the 500, the 600 and the All-Star Race,” Dillon said. “That kind of ties into the Crown Jewels.”
That would leave the Brickyard 400 at Southern 500 on the bucket list.
“Yeah, I’d like to finish those off,” said Dillon, who was fastest in Friday’s final practice for the All-Star race with a lap at 179.450 mph. “Big races.”