'It's not racing': NASCAR drivers once again bemoan package after Michigan

Austin Dillon leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rules package continued to frustrate the drivers at the highest level of the discipline on Monday afternoon during the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

It was a familiar refrain from much of the spring as several top contenders expressed frustration that their talents no longer translate to performance on the track with a high downforce, low horsepower combination that had drivers on the throttle all the way around the two-mile venue.

Clint Bowyer had the most heavy-handed critique during the race on Monday following his elimination from a crash with Erik Jones.

“It’s not racing, I’m sorry, I’m just biting my tongue,” Bowyer said after his exit from the race. “I’ve never been penalized for trying to make a pass in my whole life since I was four years old. You get a run on somebody and you can make a complete pass, but by time you get the corner, you’ve been passed by four people.”

Clint Bowyer says the new Cup Series package "isn't racing." pic.twitter.com/FNbzSAhMQ9

Bowyer’s frustration lies with the inconsistent drafting elements of the package that saw cars able to draft in a straight line, but not in the corners, creating erratic conditions in the middle of the pack.

It’s something Martin Truex Jr. cited in a separate interview after the race.

“You can’t follow anyone through the corner,” Truex said. “You have to take a completely different line. If you follow through the corner, you just lose time. You lose ground and then you don’t make that time up on the straightaway with the draft.

“You’re just constantly looking for a way to get clean air on your nose and draft on the straights. It’s a huge challenge. It’s frustrating to race this way. You beat someone through the corner and you get penalized for it. It’s kind of silly.”

Kevin Harvick has been a longtime critic of the package from the start, who even removed himself from the dialogue with NASCAR last fall when it became apparent that the sanctioning body wasn’t listening to the driver’s opinions.

When asked about the racing on Monday, the 2014 champion essentially played the I’m only here so I don’t get fined card. It’s also worth noting that Harvick has suffered a lengthy pit stop earlier in the race that cost him track position.

Here’s the Q&A:

Did you take four tires to try something different because it was hard to pass Logano up front?

“I don’t know. I just drive.”

What happened in that pit stop where you came out seventh?

“I don’t know.”

What can you do different to make up ground when everyone is wide open?

“I just do my job.”

Was the four-tire stop to do something different?

“I just drive.”

"I just drive."
"I don't know."
"I did my job." pic.twitter.com/jk3LKx5tni

At the end of the race, Kurt Busch was trying to push Truex to and past Logano but they had the same issue as soon as they go to the leader in the corner.

“You run into a little bit of dirty air,” the elder Busch brother said afterwards. “You just can’t hold it wide open. You need the third place guy to push you because the leader is in clean air and wide-open. So you need third place to push you past.

“But then you run into his dirty air and you stall out.”

The result was Logano leading 163 out of 203 laps.

“It’s far more mentally challenging this year than it is physically challenging in all honesty,” Logano said. “It’s like a superspeedway, right? You’re not there swatting flies as much, you’re not lifting. You’re on the edge. You’re using the full potential of your car, but you’re not going 220 into the corner any more, right?  You’re not on edge as long as of a period of time through the corner.

“That being said, you have to use that mental capacity now to figure out how you race around the cars around you, who is good, who is not, what they can and can’t do, what their trends are, what lanes go on restarts and don’t, how you pass cars, all that type of stuff.”

Overall, the race featured 3,097 passes and 20 lead changes amongst 11 leaders, mostly during green flag stops. That’s up from recent races, but largely equal to the rain-shorted race in 2015 that ran just past halfway — with a low downforce package.

The race produced action off restarts in the middle of the pack and closer intervals, but the leader was largely untouchable for the reasons described above.

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