NASCAR brings higher horsepower and lower downforce to all tracks
A 670-hp package with a 4" spoiler will be run everywhere (except superspeedways)
The 550-horsepower package that NASCAR ran on all intermediate ovals last year was already unpopular, with aero getting in the way of good racing plenty of times. However, during testing with the Next Gen cup cars for 2022, the problems only exacerbated, with cars demonstrating extremely unpredictable handling that varied quickly from loose in clean air to extremely tight in traffic.
Following those initial tests in November - after which drivers publicly expressed their displeasure with the car - NASCAR added more testing time to reconfigure the packages. Tested this week were four options, each steadily increasing the power while decreasing the downforce, and each showing better results than the last. The final stage, Road and Track points out, was effectively the road course and short track aero setup from last year. That allowed similar laptimes at higher speeds while forcing more precise cornering, but crucially kept the cars balanced in the pack.
Drivers and teams were quick to share their excitement with the package and their appreciation for NASCAR letting them have input. At the end of the day, these changes mean the cars are harder to drive - the opposite direction the Cup Series has been headed for the last several years. Steve O'Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Officer with the sport said, "You’ll hear this from the drivers is that this package with the Next Gen car puts it back in the drivers’ hands and we’re excited about what that will do in 2022, for sure." Fans are, he added, "going to see the best drivers and the best engineers in the world go out there and attack this car and attack each race track, and it will be hard to drive."
The first real showing of this car in a race will be the Busch Clash and the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the new package will make its racing debut. The next week's car, for Daytona and other superspeedways - potentially including Atlanta following the repave, with a future test scheduled - is yet to be finalized, though. "We’re close,” said O’Donnell. “We’ve done a number of tests already but our next step in the process for superspeedways will be in Atlanta...to confirm what package we want to put on that race track. We expect that to be the superspeedway package." That package will try to improve cooling and probably lower the downforce levels as well.
Cindric, Reddick, and Byron practice racing in traffic at the Charlotte tests
Ultimately, it's a win for fans and drivers who've pushed for more power, limiting the influence of aerodynamics in races and making the cars more difficult to drive. NASCAR continues to listen to its fans, with its new schedule echoing some fan favorites, and this is no different. In this case engine builders and designers should be pleased as well, with only one package to focus on for the season.