1. Raise them up off the ground… a lot
The hope here is that by forcing teams to make mechanical grip instead of relying on aerodynamic grip, that it would put races more in the drivers’ hands. The less the cars are sealed to the track, the more lift is created by the air underneath them. That is counteracted, to an extent, by the spoiler and ductwork, but all of that is one reason why racing with less aerodynamic cars was actually more compelling.
There’s a lot of talk about how competitive the field is these days, and that’s not incorrect. There are maybe 15 cars in the field every week capable of winning if the chips fall the right way, maybe more. But what’s behind it? Is it really that there are more elite drivers making this era so competitive, or are the cars just easier to drive, giving more drivers a chance? Either way, it’s not a bad thing, because it’s more compelling. But so little is in the hands of the people who should be driving the entire thing – the teams and drivers – and that’s what really needs to change.
2. Let teams actually work on them
Several years ago, in the name of cost cutting, NASCAR began mandating what gears teams ran and tightened the reins on suspensions as well. And the truth is, this does save teams money when they don’t have to buy (and pay multiple people to build and fine-tune) multiple springs, shocks and gear components for every track.
But it also takes away drastically from the competition. Not only does it eliminate a lot of the risk of failure that makes compelling storylines during races, but it makes the cars even more homogeneous than the aerodynamic and engine rules already do. Engines and bodies should have a degree of parity in that no manufacturer should have a distinct inherent advantage over another, but there should also be places for teams to gain an advantage, and this is where it can happen fairly, by giving all teams the ability to make their cars better than the next.
Parity isn’t about every car being equal during every race. It’s about giving teams equal footing and an equal chance to do something better than everyone else.
3. Bring back stock templates… sort of
The thing is, manufacturers aren’t likely to spend the time and money they once did designing street cars that would be fast on the racetrack. But the Cup cars should have the same basic lines as their stock counterparts, instead of the asymmetry that currently exists. Yes, making the cars symmetrical and straight makes them harder to drive on an oval. Again, this isn’t supposed to be easy.
Going back to matching the stock templates isn’t necessarily mandatory here. Making the cars symmetrical and allowing more autonomy with the front and rear of the car would make a difference. At the same time keeping the ride height slightly higher than some street cars would create a more appealing picture to fans and probably a better on-track product as well.
4. Make them heavier, with full power
Since the fifth-generation car came out, the Cup car has been lighter than the previous generations by a few hundred pounds, closer in weight to the Xfinity models. And the racing has suffered in that same time frame. The heavy, high-horsepower cars were perhaps (this is a theme here) harder to drive, but the weight, in conjunction with suspensions, tires, spoilers and gear choice, created better racing. Let’s bring that back into play.
The current Cup engine is too powerful to be safe without the tapered spacer, and there is something to be said about slightly lower power improving the racing. But the right way to go about that is to mandate a smaller engine without a spacer, and that includes the superspeedways. Run full power at every track, with a superspeedway engine that’s smaller than the one used at every other track. In this day and age of fewer engine suppliers and fewer teams building in-house, the cost of having separate speedway engines is absorbed in the team’s engine bills for the year and should not change drastically. The best racing came at a time when the cars were heavier and more powerful, so do that again.
5. Change the approach to tires
Putting races in teams’ and drivers’ hands is the theme here, so here’s another way to do that: Instead of bringing one tire to each track and each team running it all weekend, let’s have tire choice for teams.
At the road courses, the IndyCar approach would work. That means there are two tire compounds for teams: one that’s faster but wears quickly and one that’s slower but more durable, and teams have to run both for a minimum number of laps during the race. Strategy plays a bigger role than before.
At ovals, there could still be two compounds with the same properties, but this time teams must select one after the first practice that they then must run the entire rest of the weekend. Is there some risk here in allowing a less-durable tire? Yes, but teams don’t want to tear up cars, so they would learn to manage that risk as much as possible.
There are ways to make the racing better with the next generation of cars that don’t compromise the safety features the current cars feature. It’s certainly within NASCAR’s best interest to put some of them into play.