Back in the good old days of NASCAR, every car on the grid looked unique, flaunting quirks that salesmen bragged about as drivers raced in cars that had come straight from the showroom floor – back when the term “stock car” wasn’t a blatant lie.
As NASCAR evolved with tougher rules and regulations limiting what teams could do to the car, recent iterations have come to look very similar to one another, but what’s actually going on behind the scenes? How similar are the race versions of the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Toyota Camry to the road cars they so vaguely resemble?
In a nutshell, NASCAR teams are given most of the car’s components to them, manufactured by a hand-picked assortment of specialists all over the world. Manufacturers are allowed to have the freedom to design their own engines, chassis, and bodyshells, that was until the biggest shake-up of the rules in recent history arrived with the introduction of the Next-Gen car, which will be the new NASCAR Cup Series car from 2022.
If you’re wondering whether Ford, Chevy, and Toyota still get to add some of their own secret sauce to the platform that’s essentially a kit car, you’re in the right place.
NASCAR cars are the same, but different
Apart from the engine and bodyshell, yes; so strictly, no. As much as they look and sound alike whilst hurtling around the banked section at over 200km/h, cars (including the previous Gen 6 and the 2022 Next Gen cars) feature their own engine and bodyshell designed, by the manufacturers in accordance with the current rules – but that’s more or less where the disparities end.
All 3 manufacturers in the NASCAR Cup Series must use the same transmission, brakes, wheels and tires, suspension components and chassis, basically everything other than the motor and bodyshell.
Why are the NASCAR rules so strict?
The rules in NASCAR might seem strict to some, but they’re not designed in order to curb the creativity of manufacturers, or make the sport less entertaining to watch, rather the focus is on three factors:
The rules exist to keep drivers and spectators safe while creating an attractive environment for the possibility of new manufacturers, sponsorships, and opportunities for NASCAR to flourish.
To keep racing as fair and competitive as possible, many of the parts are the same and are not allowed to be modified. NASCAR is very much a “spec series” with less input allowed from the manufacturers, putting a greater emphasis on driver skill and team efficiency.
The decision to keep the majority of the parts the same in every NASCAR Series car has remained for many reasons.
- If manufacturers were responsible for designing most of the car’s components, it would most certainly divide the series into the teams with modest budgets and those with enormous spending potential, ultimately creating a “2-tier” championship, as can be observed in F1.
- Keeping the cars on a more even “playing field” is important as NASCAR cars have been capable of 200mph speeds since the 70’s and 80’s. Too many times have we seen the tragic consequences of cars lacking adequate safety features, or simply having more power than what seems necessary for the situation.
How will NASCAR change for 2022?
The new Next-Gen car making its debut in 2022, has been in development for several years, and now as we’re getting our very first, tantalizing glimpses of the new era in all its glory, I think it’s safe to say the Next-Gen car will live up to its name, with many “firsts” being introduced to NASCAR, such as rack-and-pinion steering and fully-independent rear suspension.
Despite the observable shift from stock car to race car over the last few decades, many modern features that are commonplace in road cars have struggled to make their appearance in NASCAR, essentially stunting the growth of the series. Thankfully, the wait is over, so let’s take a look at the new changes for 2022.
The engine is one part of the race car package the manufacturers can design and build themselves, however, the Next Gen cars won’t see much change in this area compared with last year as teams will most likely race with mostly the same engines as we anticipate the age of hybrid power that will scramble the ruleset once more, no doubt.
The only difference engine-wise seems to be the new rumored power output of 670-horsepower, compared with roughly 750-horsepower in the Gen 6 cars (2013-2021), perhaps the power output has been decreased to compensate for other aspects of the car providing increased performance over the previous Gen 6 cars.
The Next-Gen cars will use a steel space frame chassis, configured in a modular setup with 3 main parts: the front “clip”, cabin/cage, and rear “clip”. The “clips” are essential front and rear chassis segments.
Unlike last year, the chassis will be supplied by Technique Inc. And therefore, all teams will use the exact same chassis design. With a chassis costing teams only $28,000 a piece, plans to keep costs down seem to be very evident. The segmented “clip-on” design allows the front and rear chassis sections to be removed for servicing with greater ease and efficiency. Heading the front and rear “clips” are brand-new steel bumpers.
Downforce and aero
Perhaps some of the most interesting changes to how the cars will look when they debut this year is the new rear diffuser and partial “ground effects” aero design. This content is owned by moc.sotuaytsur. Depending on the type of circuit, teams will be able to use either a 4-inch diffuser or a 7-inch diffuser to provide the downforce needed for cornering.
Joining the new front and rear aero is the sealed, “flat bottom” design of the underside of the car, with modifications to the side skirt to guide airflow in a way that produces more downforce while reducing air resistance from the exposed components underneath the car.
The tried-and-tested recipe of low-downforce and high-horsepower will remain true, albeit with potentially sharper more precise handling cars.
Cars will now use a 5-speed Xtrac Limited sequential manual transmission with a reverse gear in place of the old 4-speed H-gate manual transmission. This should provide even closer racing as it will be easier for drivers to hop up and down through the gears when racing on circuits with many turns and gear changes each lap.
Independent rear suspension
A big change in the Next Gen cars is how the suspension works, gone is the old dependent “beam” design, making way for interchangeable wishbones with competition level Ohlins dampers, a move in the right direction, which when you consider will be further helped by the new rack-and-pinion steering, we could see Next-Gen cars cornering more effectively than any previous “spec” car.
No longer will NASCAR cars use solid rear axles, the new Next-Gen cars use something called a transaxle – cleverly combining the transmission and differential on the rear axle. The transaxle is thought to be the building block for the arrival of hybrid powerplants in the coming future.
Cars will no longer feature asymmetric bodyshell designs, which were used to aid handling and cornering stability at high speeds on the banked turns. Because the Next Gen cars must follow a symmetrical guideline, we could see teams trying other things to deal with the camber of banked turns.
The bodyshell of the Next-Gen car is constructed of a composite material, not sheet metal. Rumored to incorporate Kevlar within the carbon fiber in order to minimize the millions of dangerous shards that become scattered on the racetrack following a crash, these bodies should be lighter than previous shells while also being strong a reasonably flexible.
Manufacturers design their own body within the specified parameters, with the aesthetics seeming to show a closer resemblance this year to the roadgoing Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, and Toyota Camry respectively.
Finally, NASCAR is being brought to the level of other motorsports with more reliable, safe, and accurate steering systems seen in GT-racing and touring cars making their way into NASCARs for the very first time.
What are teams technically “allowed” to do?
If you keep your ear close to the ground, you might have already seen some very interesting methods already being tried out on the circuit in the hopes of extracting an early technical advantage from this fresh, new Next-Gen car.
Perhaps the most notable example of this is videos of Next-Gen cars during testing sessions ‘crabbing’ or appearing to drive ‘skewed’ down the straights. This is thought to be teams trying to simulate the asymmetric nature of the older, Gen 6 cars by using spacers to slightly angle the “rear clip” chassis segment. How does that work? By angling the rear axle slightly, the car will benefit from the increased stability on the bends, at the expense of the car not quite driving in a “straight” as it makes its way past the pit wall.
Keep your eyes peeled
While it might seem manufacturers and teams are limited in their means of improving their race car, the Next-Gen car is bursting with potential and sure to provide us with the closest-fought season we’ve seen in a long time. The Next Gen is set to be a breath of fresh air for the series some dubbed ‘stuck car’.
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