NASCAR is sticking to their home base this week and trying to work on the kinks still on this new Next Gen car that is slated to debut in just two months time down in Daytona. See, there’s still a lot of checklists to figure out with one of which being this horsepower package.
The original plan was for 550 horsepower on most tracks, 670 horsepower on the shorter tracks and road courses and a completely separate plan as always for Daytona and Talladega. But, NASCAR has quickly found with these recent tests at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, that the 550 horsepower package isn’t going to actually help the show like they initially hoped.
Isn’t that part of the Next Gen? Don’t you want to make the racing better than before? Isn’t that one of the main objectives of rolling out a new car is to enhance the show? You don’t want to go backwards and that’s exactly what they’ve found that they’re doing.
So, some may ask, why 550 horsepower anyways?
See, part of the 550 allure was for manufacturers. It was easier to bring new ones in and keep the existing partners with introducing less horsepower. Less horsepower means less money spent. The more you gain, the more money it costs.
Unfortunately, the 550 horsepower package has mostly been a dud. The other goal other than cost efficiency for this package was to create a Daytona/Talladega type pack race on these tracks. But, due to the dirty air and no one having much off throttle time, it worked in reverse. It was hard to pass and became a spread out show.
It also changed the way that these races ran. Restarts were now the most exciting part of a race because this was the only time aero didn’t play a role. You weren’t up to speed yet and can try to pass as many cars as one can which means three, four and even sometimes, five wide in places. That then created mayhem and usually carnage.
The drivers felt like with more horsepower, means more off throttle time. It means you actually have to drive the car and not be at the mercy of aerodynamics. For the 550 package they felt that their talents aren’t on showcase anymore. It’s more about holding the throttle wide open and your race winning chances hindering on drafting help and picking the right lane to make the right moves when it counts the most.
So, in came a new car for 2022 with hopes that this car could help the 550 package. After a few tests now, they’ve found it won’t. It’s actually making it worse and the cars slower.
“If you look at the 550 package, to produce some of the results you saw (last season), the horsepower levels would have to be so low we just don’t think it would be the right move,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, on Friday. “I think it’s a balance between where we were which was maybe a restart with five laps of three wide but harder to pass throughout a run. Hopefully with this package, hopefully you’ll see more movement throughout the field throughout the whole run.”
We didn’t see that much on 550 tracks last year and this new car wasn’t going to really allow that either. Kudos to NASCAR for recognizing this and making changes. They could have just showed up to Daytona with their heads stuck in the sand and let the chips fall how they may be. Instead, they’re not doing so. They’re receptive of feedback and working with these teams and drivers to help put on the best show possible.
One could also make a case that if they didn’t adapt, in a lot of race weekend’s, the Cup Series will be the slowest cars on track. ARCA, Trucks and Xfinity will all have higher average speeds than a Cup car.
Isn’t that backwards?
Look at these divisions like you would baseball. ARCA is single A. Trucks are AA. Xfinity is AAA and Cup is major leagues. Is it a good look if the major leagues are running slower lap times than single A?
I mean, isn’t this supposed to be the pinnacle of stock car racing? Shouldn’t the speed department rise the further you move up?
Why is a 18 year old kid in Trucks running faster than a Cup Series driver?
This is something that’s surely going to be debated. Most would think the cars would be faster, louder and harder to drive the more you move up.
Now, this car seems to be hard to drive, so it also leads me to ask, does speed truly matter if the racing product is great? You can’t visually tell if a Cup car is slower than an ARCA car. They’ll all look the same. So, if a Cup car is harder to drive and puts on a better show, does speed really matter then?
After all, that’s what it’s really about now.
Speed used to sell. But once they kind of evened out, the attention of speed went away. I mean in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and even into the early 90s, racing was all about speed and innovation. That was a huge draw.
The thing is, as the cars got safer too, the speeds couldn’t match the safety aspects. There’s really a limit on how fast you can safely go no matter how safe these cars are built. You can’t just barrel into a turn at 300 mph. It’s never going to work.
So, the speeds really leveled out and the attention for that went away. Then, with the lack of really marketing qualifying, that phased its way out.
Look at it this way, grandstands would be packed on Saturday qualifying shows. Not race day levels, but people showed up and paid attention. Over the last decade or so, maybe even longer, the grandstands were filled with empty aluminum for qualifying. No one showed. No one came for practice. It was race day only.
Granted, diehard fans know how hard qualifying is as it’s an entirely different discipline. A race is all about long run pace where qualifying is 1-2 laps of pure adrenaline. You drive harder. You drive deeper. Your car is setup to last only those few laps so you’re completely on edge where in the race you want more grip.
The drivers are just so good that qualifying looks routine to the naked eye. You don’t see and witness the stress and anxiety that goes into this behind the scenes and I feel like the racing series of all failed to capture that.
It doesn’t matter the speeds. When these drivers are laying it all out on the line on a razors edge, it’s intense.
That essence went away because they failed to maximize it and now it’s not coming back. So, why focus on speed?
It’s all about the race and race day speeds aren’t a focus. There’s not speed charts for race day. So, if you take away speed charts on Friday and Saturday, would you really notice a difference between the divisions of NASCAR?
But, when the product on Sunday isn’t good and the other series are faster and producing better racing, the speed angle gets amplified.
Like it or not, NASCAR is now an entertainment sport which is a fundamental shift from the past. The lower divisions have more horsepower and less downforce than the Cup cars even with this move. The racing is vastly different due to that.
“I would say we’re more than likely going with that number across all of our tracks,” said O’Donnell on the 670 package. “We’ve still got a few boxes to check post tests here where we get together with our (OEMs, original equipment manufacturers) and the teams and just confirm that’s the direction we want to go with. But everything we’ve seen so far, that tells us and that’s the horsepower we want to target and go with.”
Officials and teams shifted through three configurations during eight hours of testing Wednesday:
- Configuration 1: 550 target horsepower, centered 7-inch spoiler — a 1-inch reduction from the most recent Charlotte test.
- Configuration 2: 670 target horsepower, centered 6-inch spoiler.
- Configuration 3: 670 target horsepower, 6-inch spoiler offset to the right (passenger) side.
A fourth configuration is set to be tested in the latter part of Friday’s test, using the 670-horsepower output with a 4-inch rear spoiler centered. The setup is the latest configuration as teams, drivers and officials focus on determining the rules package that will be used in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series.
“We know where we’re at. It’ll definitely be one of the goals has been to move a little bit more downforce toward the front because we were having to run so much rearward to add stability to the car,” said Dr. Eric Jacuzzi, NASCAR managing director of aerodynamics and vehicle performance. “It seems like now that the car’s a little happier, better behaved at different ride heights, I think we’re pretty comfortable with where we’re at. It seems like product-wise, we feel pretty good.”
Three 30-lap group runs were scheduled throughout the day. Teams will start on new tires and line up according to unofficial test speeds, fastest to slowest.
- 10 a.m. ET: 30-lap group run with Configuration 3
- 1 p.m. ET: 30-lap group run with Configuration 2
- 3 p.m. ET: 30-lap group run with Configuration 4
A separate rules package will be used at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, where speeds are curtailed on the circuit’s fastest ovals. O’Donnell said Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is being reconfigured with steeper banking for the 2022 season, may also fall into that category after tests are held there — Jan. 5 and 6 for Cup Series.
More preseason tests are scheduled next month — Jan. 11-12 at Daytona, and Jan. 25-26 at Phoenix Raceway. Jacuzzi said the 2022 rules and car configurations should be mostly set after this week’s Charlotte tests.
“I think depending on what comes out of today, we’re like 95% there as far as the pieces here,” Jacuzzi said. “Making the final aero package, I think early next week, we’ll be there. Then obviously, superspeedways. We have the Talladega test, so we’re just looking at speeds and whether we can kind of unify the intermediate and speedway packages, but that all depends — safety, how fast we’re going. We always try to do that and we will, but we’ll be in much better shape early next week.”
That’s one thing, but among a track that isn’t part of the 670 package? Atlanta. That’s shocking to me in a sense that the size didn’t change. It’s still 1.54-miles in length. The repave and making it wider though, well NASCAR is essentially saying it’s going to be similar to Daytona and Talladega which means we now have three superspeedway’s? I mean if their package is similar to Daytona and Talladega, like NASCAR is saying, then that would make this a vastly different race than we’ve ever seen there.
See, Atlanta was a drivers favorite in the sense it was an old worn out racing surface (last paved in 1997) and gave drivers plenty of room to race on. Even the 550 package couldn’t hurt this racing there because the surface was so abrasive that you’d have to lift and muscle your car around for an entire stint. Now, it’s completely the opposite.
Speaking of that, we’ve seen several incidents in these test sessions at Charlotte. Is that a reason for concern?
The 550 package wasn’t making the cars are racier but it was making them harder to drive and that’s a very good thing. The same goal is for them to be tougher to drive with the 670 package too. You want the cars at the top level to be harder to drive than anything else. It’s not supposed to be easy. But, what’s the limit to being too hard?
See, with this new car, everything changes. From past setups to driving styles, etc, nothing that worked in the past will really translate well over to this car.
So, these test session for the drivers are more about trying to find the limit of this new car for them. The old car, well you know the limit. You can push as hard as you can because as a professional race car driver, you know when the car is at it’s peak and can’t go any further.
They don’t have that luxury with this car. No one truly knows yet the limit and are comfortable with being an expert at this thing. Plus, with a different set of aerodynamics and having a different amount of side force, it takes time to figure out how far you can push this car from inside the cockpit.
Where is the edge? No one knows yet. That’s why you see a magnitude of spins and crashes so far.
Are they harder to drive? Sure. They’re are saying that. But, these are also professional drivers and in NASCAR’s premiere series for a reason. Don’t you think they’ll eventually find the limit? Once they do, I suspect these spins and crashes will decrease.
The key is, when they decrease, will the show be better?