Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CONCORD, NC – From a technical standpoint, the rules package NASCAR is incorporating into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for 2019 will feature a car with higher downforce and lower horsepower—with the hope of fostering closer racing.
From a global standpoint, NASCAR is making the changes to the car with an eye toward making the sport more accessible to potential new manufacturers and team owners.
For those looking for an eye test, think back to the Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. Competition in that event was widely heralded for producing tight racing and deft maneuvering and for bringing more drivers into the mix.
Though the rules package sent to teams on Monday night bears certain similarities to the All-Star configuration, there are differences, too. At tracks measuring 1.33 miles and longer, the 2019 rules feature a 37.5-percent increase in horsepower, from 400 used in the All-Star package to 550 under 2019 rules.
On the larger tracks, including the superspeedways (with the exception of the 2019 Daytona 500), cars will use a .922-inch tapered spacer to reduce horsepower and a larger spoiler (61 inches wide by 8 inches tall) to add roughly 50 percent more downforce than the current Cup car currently possesses.
The front splitter will feature a 2-inch overhang, with the side pieces widening to 10.5 inches underneath the car. A larger radiator pan will taper from 37 inches to 31 inches from front to back, and on most tracks, cars will feature the sort of front aero ducts that were used in the All-Star race.
In modeling the changes, NASCAR has discovered that the aero ducts widen the wake behind the car, thus making it easier for trailing cars to close ground and pass.
“I’ve seen more collaboration in coming up with this rules package than I’ve ever seen,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, in a Tuesday round table with reporters at the NASCAR Research & Development Center. “Over two years, we’ve worked with the teams, we’ve worked with the team engineers, we’ve worked with the OEMS—their engineers—our television partners.
“We’ve talked to our fans, we’ve talked to (tire supplier) Goodyear, we’ve talked to the engine builders, we’ve talked to the drivers. Does everybody agree on the final direction? Of course not. There’s always going to be some back and forth, but I think, ultimately, we’ve taken the most input possible and taken a direction we believe is right for the sport.”
At tracks shorter than 1.33 miles and at road courses, the Cup cars will use a 1.17-inch tapered spacer, with engines expected to generate roughly 750 horsepower. In the events at Atlanta, Pocono, Darlington and Homestead, cars will feature traditional brake ducts, as opposed to the aero ducts, because those speedways require heavier braking and additional cooling.
Aside from those differences, the package will remain consistent throughout the season, with the exception of the 2019 Daytona 500, which will be run with the same rules as 2018. Other than that, NASCAR will cease to use restrictor plates to cut horsepower at superspeedways, opting for the tapered spacers at all tracks.
Originally, based on the success of the All-Star Race, NASCAR considered testing the new package in points races at three tracks this year. But according to Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, not racing under the new rules after May might have been a blessing in disguise.
“To me, there’s a positive aspect to that,” Miller said. “because we have done an awful lot of work since the All-Star Race. And had we run it again, it might not have evolved to where it is right now, which is where we feel it needs to be.”
In terms of engine architecture, O’Donnell believes the 550-horsepower version is more accessible and therefore more attractive to potential new manufacturers. And the prospect of closer racing top-to-bottom could make entry into the sport more appealing to potential new owners.
O’Donnell, however, was quick to correct the notion that NASCAR hopes to create mini versions of Talladega at a variety of tracks.
“I want to dispel the myth that NASCAR is interested in pack racing everywhere,” O’Donnell said. “This package takes the best of the short tracks and the best of the superspeedways and comes out in-between.
“Do we want more cars on the lead lap? Absolutely. Do we want tighter racing? Absolutely. Do we expect three-wide every lap? No. The best drivers and the best teams are still going to win races.”
NASCAR is testing with package with the 1.17-inch spacer this week at Phoenix. Tests using the .922-inch spacer are scheduled in conjunction with upcoming Goodyear tires tests at Charlotte, Atlanta and Las Vegas.