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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Question: What Is the Future of Engines in NASCAR?

What is the future of engines in NASCAR?

This past week, Brad Keselowski suggested in a column on NASCAR.com that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series should implement what’s essentially a hybrid engine, using an electronic component similar to Formula 1’s KERS system.

The KERS system, in layman’s terms, gives the engine a short speed boost that the driver can use at any point in a given lap for a finite amount of time. If you’ve ever played a Need For Speed game, it kinda functions like a boost of nitrous.

In the piece, Keselowski condemned the idea of moving to strictly electric cars, arguing that fans would not be happy at the complete lack of engine noise. Still, Keselowski argues that there are other advantages hybrid engines would bring, such as being able to switch to an all electric mode under caution that would allow fans in attendance a break from the noise. And of course, with all of the attention Formula E has received in recent years from manufacturers, it would spar more support from the three existing car manufacturers and maybe even attract new ones.

There are a few negatives to the idea, chief among them being the price. In a perfect world, NASCAR would have a much smaller engine than what they have now, but can’t do it because it would be a gigantic up front cost to the teams. The same could be said for the implementation of hybrid engines, which would require all Cup engines to become obsolete overnight. It would also be horrible for the smaller teams, who don’t exactly have the funds of a Rick Hendrick or Roger Penske.

Perhaps the best course of action for NASCAR would be to take a page out of the FIA’s handbook and create a new series for this instead of trying to replace the main show. The XFINITY Series has no real identity right now besides being Cup Jr. By next year, Cup will be running the same exact car models XFINITY runs now, and the drive to limit Cup veterans from competing in a majority of the races haven’t increased ticket sales or available television ratings. Why not turn it into a hybrid series in every sense of the word — hybrid cars and a hybrid schedule (half road courses and half ovals)? There’s not a whole lot going for the series as is, so why not take a gamble? Especially now that, if all else fails, NASCAR can just promote ARCA to its number two series.

Where does Ryan Blaney stand a year after his first win?

This weekend marks one year since Ryan Blaney won his first, and so far only, Cup Series race. The second generation driver has since moved on from the venerable Wood Brothers Racing team to a new car at Team Penske,

His tenure at Penske so far has been frustrating. Blaney is fast; his average start of 9.5 ranks fourth highest among all drivers this season. But he hasn’t been able to close the deal out most weeks. He led 100 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway before being taken out in a multi-car accident on lap 117. He led 118 laps at Daytona International Speedway but was involved in a late-race wreck and could only muster seventh out of a car that could of been in Daytona USA for the next year. The last two points races have ended with DNFs, which was enough to knock him out of the top 10 in points for the first time this season.

If Blaney can find a way to close races out, which seems to be a problem with a lot of the young drivers in Cup today, he could be a force to be reckoned with in the second half of this season. Especially if the Chevrolets don’t make a comeback in that same time frame.

Have teams finally begun to get some speed out of the Camaro?

Chevrolet seemed to finally buckle down and have a good showing at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson all spent the vast majority of the night in the top 10 and at times the top five. Johnson and Larson were also able to come back from spins to finish fifth and seventh, respectively.

Sure, it didn’t seem like they had much for the Toyota drivers. But at the very least, Chevrolet seems to have caught up with Ford. The only Ford that looked to be head-and-shoulders above the Chevrolets was Kevin Harvick, whose Ford cut through the field like a hot knife through butter before a flat tire ended his day. It’s a far cry from Ford being completely unstoppable and Larson being the only Chevrolet finishing in the top 10.

The new Camaro has been a major struggle for teams to find any speed out of it to begin the season. But if Charlotte can be followed up on with a strong showing at Pocono Raceway for the bowties, it might have just found something right when they needed it.

Who will conquer the triangle?

Pocono Raceway is a strange racetrack. Three completely different turns that mimic turns from three other completely different racetracks and the longest straightaway in NASCAR is right there on the frontstretch. The best way to describe it is as a road course, but even then a lot of drivers who typically excel at road courses can’t translate that to success at Pocono. It would stand to reason that rookies would struggle at it, but Denny Hamlin swept both races as a rookie and others such as Erik Jones have adopted to the track well. Throw in how unpredictable and rainy the weather can be at times (it is in the mountains, after all), and it’s hard to predict just who will be great at Pocono.

Jones in particular is one to watch this weekend. One of his best races came in the June race last year, when he led 20 laps and finished a strong third. He then followed that up with an eighth later on in the second race. Brad Keselowski hasn’t won at Pocono since 2011, but his 5.7 average finish in the past three years there is the best in the series. Kyle Busch probably should have won the first race last year if it wasn’t for a bad strategy call, but then he won the August race and should be a major factor to win on Sunday.

Expect the race to come down to these three and Harvick on Sunday. Harvick is on an absolute roll right now, and I doubt that blown tire is going to completely derail him. He’ll be out for vengeance on the field this weekend.

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7 thoughts on “4 Burning Question: What Is the Future of Engines in NASCAR?”

  1. While I think that would be in the “sports” best interest to move on from the 358 engines used today I doubt that it will happen, or until there is a change of ownership. And to be fair I doubt if it would have the same impact that race lengths would have.
    Of course all bets are off if the manufacturers force the issue.

  2. I actually agree with Brad on this…
    If NASCAR still has the race on Sunday sell on Monday attitude then they must keep up with what is being sold and Hybrid engines are on the looming. I also think IMSA and Indycar should look at this as well. This will tax the engine builders TRD, RoushYates, Hendrick, ECR and Joey Arrington but might be worth it in the long run.

    NASCAR should also look at paddle shift transmissions since most cars including the SUV i drive come with them and I really haven’t see a four on the floor on a car in a while. Gotta keep up with what is being manufactured and sold to the fans. That is why NASCAR has a truck series since when it was formed we all drove truck but now SUV’s are in… I know, the NASCAR SUV Series!

  3. While adding KERS to Cup cars is an interesting thought, only Haas has any engineering expertise in that area from their Formula 1 program. Adding that to the teams and to Nascar’s plate would require a 3 year period to
    develop and train people to work on the cars AND to get them off the track after crashes. Recall that when KERS was being developed for F1 teams that a BMW mechanic went to change a tire and something discharged and blew him 10 feet away from the car. In addition, it opens up a whole ‘gray area’ that will require new skills within the sanctioning body to properly police them. Keep in mind how many Formula 1 cars are on the track each weekend and how many of them actually have any chance of winning. I like the idea of smaller engines, no restrictor plates, and softening the specs on body tolerances to allow teams to develop an advantage. Also open up the suspension tuning and alignment specs. Its better than all the R&D that goes into the build of deformable body structures. Look at what the commitment to parity has produced this year and last…Truex, Busch and Harvick being unbeatable.
    Also, the engine specs must be the same for all manufacturers. They have to be designed to the same specifications ‘box’, which current engines were not. I do agree that SUV races should be considered…perhaps a short track series only and make bodies as close to stock as possible. Manufacturers would be beating the doors down.

    • John, like your comments on the issue of hybrids in Nascar. To my mind Brad K’s ideas weren’t well thought out. It sounded like a guy who knew that change was inevitable but wanted to hang onto the past as well, i.e. keeping the big V8’s along with KERS.
      In my opinion more power isn’t what they need, and, given the potential for crashes maybe electrification isn’t the answer. But what is? The manufacturers will make that call for nascar, not the other way around. Remember when they downsized to the 358’s from the 430’s, it took a couple of years to implement and there was far less money then.
      As far as the number of teams that are competitive in F1, maybe thats not the right way t look at it. Look at the number of road going vehicles that are using technology developed by Williams Advanced Engineering and Williams Hybrid Technologies. While they aren’t competing for race wins every week they are having an impact. Not much need today for 358cid pushrod V8’s.
      In short I believe change will come, not soon however, and it will come when the manufacturers say enough is enough.

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