Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway was the second and final test for the low-downforce rules package for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams.
The package received rave reviews from the competitors after its debut at Kentucky Speedway, and Sunday night's provided another exciting show for the fans watching in the grandstands and at home.
Following the conclusion of Sunday night's race, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell addressed the low-downforce package and what it means moving forward.
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"There's a lot of data for us to go back and absorb like we did coming out of Kentucky and the other races," O'Donnell said in the Darlington garage. "From our perspective, we'll go and do that and spend the proper time with the industry, the drivers, with a decision probably at the end of the month on our rules package."
Many of the competitors championed the low-downforce package after Kentucky, and heading into Sunday's race at Darlington they anticipated a good show, especially since the tire falloff put a lot of things back in the their hands.
Despite featuring a record 18 cautions, the racing throughout the pack was exciting, side-by-side and consistent from start to finish in the race eventually won by Carl Edwards.
"I thought it was a great package," said fourth-place finisher Joey Logano. "We raced really, really hard. I thought the tire wear made it a lot of fun. When you see the top three cars and the leader isn't pulling away, that's pretty cool. That's what we want to see. ... It's not an easy track to put on a good race, and we did tonight, and I think that says something about this package."
Throughout the event, O'Donnell was communicating with fans via Twitter about the low-downforce rules package, saying many of them were complimenting both the night's overall theme and the action seen on the track.
"It was early in the race, but I think everyone really liked the throwback theme. It seemed to be fairly positive from the fans, which we obviously took as a great sign. That continued to build throughout the race. (There was) a lot of on-track action between drivers. You saw Carl Edwards was two laps down and came back to win the race, which is an incredible feat. Overall, I think we're really pleased with the race product tonight."
While the Southern 500 was NASCAR first 500-mile event in history, Sunday's race took a total of four hours, 28 minutes and 35 seconds. When asked if the length of the race is something NASCAR would consider moving forward, O'Donnell said it would be discussed, but it really comes down to fan reaction.
"I look at it as, 'Where the fans entertained?' When I looked down at Lap 10 and toward the end of the race they were on their feet. I think if you were to ask most race fans here tonight if they enjoyed four-and-a-half hours of racing action, I think they'd say yes. For us, it's always about the entertaining racing on the track. I think the drivers delivered that tonight," O'Donnell said.
"It's certainly something we'll want to look at," he added of the race's length. "You never know if you're going to have a record number of cautions or four cautions. Those are things we'll look at and evaluate, but overall very pleased."
While this package had been run previously at Kentucky Speedway, this was the first time the package was run with a purpose-built tire from Goodyear. Moving forward, O'Donnell indicated that would play heavily into how NASCAR evaluates the package for 2016.
"It's part of the package. You heard Carl express tonight, 'Oh, I wish I could run this in the Chase.' We've been clear as an industry, we've all talked and made the decision together that we're going to move forward with the 2015 rules package. Part of that reasoning is that those rules are in place and that tire package is in place, and they all work together. We're confident on what that will deliver in the Chase."
Moving forward from Sunday night's race, O'Donnell indicated the sanctioning body will meet with the NASCAR industry over the next few weeks to determine the plan for the 2016 rules package.
"We'll come out of here and meet with all of the OEMs, we'll probably bring some of the drivers, some of the crew members, OEMs and Goodyear together, talk about everything we've seen and where we want to go forward with the '16 package," he said. "This was certainly a positive night for us that we'll build upon and take that momentum as we head into '16. We'll have (the 2016 rules package) in the next couple weeks and continue on to get the rules package out toward the end of the month."
While NASCAR has already announced it will use the original 2015 rules package over the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, Edwards did not hesitate to suggest they use the low-downforce package instead.
"I'm kind of a shoot-for-the-moon kind of guy, and I hope a race like tonight makes them think about the idea of running this even in the Chase," he said. "Everybody has developed this package. I believe it's pretty obvious that it races really well and it's really fun to do and it's fun to watch. But even if we don't, I hope next year they really consider going farther this direction.
Edwards applauded NASCAR for their efforts in trying out different packages and working with the competitors to do so. However, he believes this is a crucial time for the sport in terms of where they go with the rules package.
"I really think we're at a bigger crossroads than most people realize," he said. "I think this is an opportunity for the sport to go in one of two directions. They can go the direction of making the sport competitive because the cars are easy to drive and everyone's car is about the same and we can basically have Talladega every week, or they can go the direction of making the cars extremely hard to drive and showing the massive talent of the drivers, the crew chiefs and the pit crews, and I hope that they take the latter. I hope they really keep going this direction."