Dillon Wins as New Aero Package Continues to Show Weaknesses
Austin Dillon captured a rain soaked checkered flag at the LTi Printing 250 at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday. The win was the ninth of Dillon’s Xfinity Series career and first since Bristol in August of 2016.
The story heading into Saturday’s race revolved all around the experimental restrictor plate package making its third appearance in the Xfinity Series (previously used at Indy and Pocono). The package consists of: an extended splitter, aero ducts on the nose, taller spoiler with earmarks on either side, and a carburetor restrictor plate on the engine. The practice sessions on Friday afternoon looked quite promising as cars were able to run in packs very reminiscent of those seen at Daytona and Talladega. The actual race left much to be desired.
With qualifying rained out in the morning the field was set by owner points. This meant Kyle Busch would lead the field to green. The race’s first three laps consisted of six lead changes between Busch, Paul Menard, and Elliott Sadler. After watching that exchange it was was easy to think the entire race would be that exciting. But that was far from the case.
Busch finally established the lead on lap three and immediately everyone tucked in single file and played follow the leader. The caution flew halfway through the 30 lap stage and with 10 laps to go we got our first glimpse at what restarts would be like.
The first two laps after the green went back in the air were quite eventful as everyone scrambled to get as much track position as possible before things got single file again. Busch led the freight train all the way to the end of the stage. Xfinity regular Cole Custer, who was in second, did try and make a move on Busch for the lead as the stage ended but he had no drafting help and accomplished nothing.
Following the end of stage 1 the longest green flag stretch was eight laps so there were plenty of opportunities to see restarts. It quickly became evident though that each one went the exact same way; a few laps of wild action followed by a single file formation until the next caution flew. The threat of rain upped the intensity slightly as the weather approached but even then it was clearly evident the side by side action couldn’t be sustained for more than a handful of laps.
The race finally came to an end when a restart on lap 89 pitted Dillon and his teammate Daniel Hemric against each other. The two battled side by side around the track but the determining factor wasn’t in their driving ability it was in how much drafting help they had. Dillon had Custer lined up behind him while Hemric had Ryan Reed. Custer stayed tucked behind Dillon’s 3 car while Reed tried to make a move for the win himself which ultimately cost both drivers a shot at victory. The field would soon see yellow lights flashing on lap 90 and Dillon would claim the win under caution the following lap.
For a race met with much enthusiasm beforehand I’d have to say the experimental package didn’t live up to the hype. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR does with it going forward.