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2-Headed Monster: Are Hybrid Engines a Good Move for NASCAR?

When rumors broke last week that NASCAR will be pursuing hybrid technology for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series possibly as early as 2022, another wave of dissension was created among some fans who have grown resistant to change in recent years (despite not changing when what was being tried clearly wasn’t working), while others welcomed it as a sign of NASCAR getting with the times.

While the specifics have yet to be ironed out, Clayton Caldwell and Vito Pugliese have some polar opposite opinions on the change and what it might mean for the future of NASCAR racing.

Hybrid Engines Will Make NASCAR More Boring

Hybrid engines? Seriously?

My biggest pet peeve with NASCAR over the last decade or so has been its push to have the biggest and best in technology. I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the fans at all. Hybrid engines will affect the sport more than some people think, and it will be for the worse. It will change the noise, the smell and even pit stops and take another element away from the sport.

Some of the technology that NASCAR has instituted over the years has hurt key elements of the sport. For example, NASCAR now allows drivers to see their competitors’ braking points and where each driver picks up the throttle. That may seem like the worst thing NASCAR could do but I believe hybrid engines will hurt the sport worse.

There’s no doubt there are some positives that hybrid engines would bring to the sport but the negative far outweighs the positives. Sure, it may help the environment and it may help save teams money on fuel costs, but how will the engine sound? One of the coolest things about NASCAR is the roar of the engines. So many fans love when a car goes by and when you hear the sound the cars make when they drive by. It’s an incredible rush and an incredible feel. Hybrid engines will change that.

Another neat thing about our current engines is the smell of the fuel. Every year, one of the things I look forward to when I go to the racetrack is the smell of the engines. I can remember going to my first race as a kid in 1993, and that smell was there. There’s nothing else like it. That smell is the same today as it was back then. There’s nothing better. Of all the changes that has happened over the years, the smell has remained the same. Hybrid engines will change that as well.

How about pit stops? Hybrid engines will mean less fuel consumption and in the end that will mean less pit stops. There are some tracks that teams will pit for tires more frequently than others but it will certainly change the strategy of races. For example, since the implementation of stages, sometimes we see teams split stages in half because they can’t run the entire stage on a tank of fuel.

That would change because teams would no longer pit under green and wait for the stage breaks to make their pit stops. Having hybrid engines would mean that green-flag pit stops would almost be nonexistent. It would remove another element of the sport. Teams would only pit when their tires fall off. How does taking strategy away from the sport help its entertainment value? Here’s the answer: it doesn’t.

In the end, hybrid engines will change NASCAR substantially, and it will be a change for the worse. The sounds and smell of the engines will change drastically, and it would change the strategy and pit stops of NASCAR races forever. Hopefully, NASCAR will come to its senses and realize that hybrid engines will just make the sport more boring and duller. In a sport where that has been the reputation for the last decade or so, that can’t be a good thing. – Clayton Caldwell

Putting the “Stock” Back in Stock Car Racing

Usually when there’s a controversial topic swirling in the garage area that we tackle here in 2-Headed Monster, it’s not always a black-and-white, yes-or-no discussion. With some of the radical changes that have happened over the last couple of seasons, coupled with those that are in process over the next few years, there is some definite nuance to staking out a position with many of the issues.

One item that rose to the surface last week was the confirmation from NASCAR that hybrid technology has been given approval to proceed with planning and execution for the 2022 season. This is a bit more clear for me to take a more-than-tacit endorsement of.

I’m all in.

If you’re part of any Reddit or Facebook NASCAR groups or scroll through Twitter, you’ll see the usual knee-jerk negativity that has become the default position of a substantial number of fans lately. “Hybrids in NASCAR? Oh that’s it, I’m done.”

Or my favorite, “Just another nail in the coffin. It’s all about greed!”

What? What does that even mean? Then you’ll see the usual “Return to The Rock and North Wilkesboro!” threads, and it derails from there. Before things go equally astray here, let’s look at why this is a positive thing for NASCAR.

Let’s pump the regenerative brakes for a second and recall what the “SC” in NASCAR represents: Stock Car, i.e. production models competing on the track. Yes, the much-romanticized sport that everyone pisses and moans routinely about having gone away from its roots because they aren’t “stock cars” anymore.

Images of Richard Petty’s Superbird come rushing to mind – the same cars that sat on dealers’ lots well into 1972, some having to be retrofitted with a grille out of a Dodge Coronet and wing removal just to get them the hell out of there. NASCAR isn’t introducing this just to spice things up – it’s what manufacturers are building and have to build to remain competitive in the retail landscape.

Last year, Ford announced that they were ceasing production of every passenger car in the US, with the exception of the Mustang and Focus – both of which are global models. Customer demand has shifted to SUVs and crossovers almost exclusively, while the four-door sedan has been replaced by the crew cab pickup truck as the lease value of choice for millions of buyers each year.

It was also mentioned last year that the next-generation Mustang would feature hybrid technology (battery assist – so it still will feature a gas-powered engine that will provide the majority of the range) in the upcoming S650 refresh due in the next couple of years. Hybrid Camrys have been around since 2006, and the Camaro … well, the rumor is it’s going away again. But with the new Corvette that was discussed so much at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend becoming a mid-engine car, perhaps it can continue to make a case for itself within the Bowtie portfolio.

For the naysayers, it could be worse given current trends. Mustangs, Camaros and Camrys could very well become Equinoxes, Escapes and RAV 4s if the decision was to race what was selling.

This isn’t exactly new technology either; this stuff has been around for neigh on 25 years, an eternity in engineering. Formula One has been using it since 2009 when the KERS systems were first introduced. For a series like NASCAR, whose premier series dropped carburetors in 2012 – despite the last carb-equipped car being produced 24 years earlier in 1988 – people were equally antsy about it for no apparent reason. Some thought it would make traction control easier to sneak in (despite it having already been used by some a decade earlier), but everyone seems to be quite pleased with it almost eight years later.

The sanctioning body and manufacturers have gone to great lengths over the last few seasons to produce cars that are more identifiable with their street-going brethren. For manufacturers to make the business case for continuing to participate in NASCAR, they need something tangible that they can draw a line with connecting what is on track to what is being produced. NASCAR can’t survive as simply a marketing exercise anymore like it did 10 years ago.

Remember when everyone threw their hands up in (justifiable) righteous indignation when the Car Of Tomorrow common-template car came to be? Every car was the same, save for some brand identification stickers, and we are still trying to recover from what resulted.

That said, there’s still a core contingent out there that will find fault with anything new being attempted, despite nothing new being tried for almost 10 years, while attendance, sponsorship and manufacturer involvement was precipitously whittled away. This same bunch will argue that “NASCAR died when Dale did…” (despite the seven years of unprecedented growth that occurred up through 2007), and what is going to be raced isn’t a real stock car. Not like back when Dale drove those rear-wheel drive, V-8-powered 700hp Luminas with a Ford 9-inch rear end that you could buy…

Skeptics, take heart – we’re not racing spaceships yet. We’re still going to be racing cars using technology that’s almost 30 years old. – Vito Pugliese

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About Clayton Caldwell

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Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.

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23 comments

  1. Avatar

    I always tell people that watching a NASCAR race live is way different than watching on TV. The sensory overload of sounds and smells helps make it great; more so than any other professional sport. However, I wonder if NASCAR is looking at F1 when thinking about hybrid technology. Or more to the point, the threat F1 has from the start-up Formula e all electric series. Granted FE is no where near as popular as F1 as they just concluded their 5th season, but it is growing in popularity fast, especially with the car manufacturers. F1 has 3 auto makers involved (Ferrari, Mercedes, and Renault). FE will have 6 major manufacturers involved next season (Audi, Jaguar, Nissan, BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes) plus 3 small or lesser know manufacturers (NIO, DS, and Mahindra). Its obvious where the manufacturers think the future of the auto is headed and I can’t help but wonder if F1 feels threatened even though the governing body is the same for both series. Kinda goes back to the win on Sunday, sell on Monday idea, as well as using racing to improve the technology for street cars.

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    If you are going to go on a rant, at least try to make it credible and factual. NASCAR has been chasing high technology for the past decade, how? By instituting a fuel injection system that would have been state of the art in the early 70s? Hybrid motors aren’t going to save the teams fuel costs. Why? Because they don’t pay for race fuel. It’s part of the Sunoco sponsorship. It’s not going to help the environment. Why? NOTHING about racing is good for the environment. Finally, most people are not obsessed with G-D pitstops. Stop it with that crap. They aren’t interesting and add nothing to the race. If you had been a fan since 1993 you would remember that we used to have 22 gallon fuel tanks and they weren’t making pit stops every five minutes. Now that you recall this minor detail, you can quit wringing your little hands, because rest assured, if hybrid motors significantly alter fuel mileage, NASCAR can, has and will simply change the capacity of the fuel tanks.

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    Unfortunately gas powered cars are no longer the future. Some European countries have set dates to end gas powered cars being sold. Hybrids and electric are the future. Like it, or not. Maybe they can create a cd with the sound of a v8 co-ordinated with the acceleration of the car. Or use spoke wheels with baseball cards to make noise. Youngsters may not understand this one.

    NASCAR has been quoted saying the COT was a mistake. 2021 sounds like history will repeat itself. Generic chassis with a composite body. They’ve said the chassis will be designed to accept a hybrid power plant. However no mention has been made of front wheel drive. What the hell. Sprint cars and dirt late models bear no resemblance to a street car but are immensely popular.

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    The great smell definitely went away with the switch to ethanol.

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    Just what NASCAR needs. A New Green Deal! OAC can be the grand marshal for Daytona

  6. Avatar

    My favorite segment of the rain delay from Talladega this past weekend was them showing the older cars. NASCAR can and will do whatever it want. Not sure that this idea makes them more relevant. I’m fairly sure that ship has already sailed.

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    NASCAR should start a vintage racing circuit with cars from the 70s, 80s and 90s because there is definitely a segment of the fanbase for whom the term “stock” ends in one of those decades. NASCAR absolutely has to put some form of electrification in the engines to remain relevant to what is being sold today and into the future and to keep the manufacturers involved. The current manufacturers and any potential future ones aren’t interested in pumping hundreds of millions into promoting cars using mid-20th century technology still. From all I’ve read on this, they aren’t going to be racing Priuses, but something similar to F-1s KERS system. Watching LeMans over the last few years, all the overall winners are hybrids that make 1000+ horsepower. Like it or not in a generation most of the cars on the road will probably be electric or have some form of electric power on them.

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      I have an idea… when the majority of cars the manufactures sell are electric, then NASCAR can change the cars. Until then run what the majority of people are buying.
      Personally, I will continue buying gas powered cars until there are none being sold or gas gets so expensive that I really won’t have a choice ($10+ a gallon).

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        The things we see on a nascar race track are what the majority of people are buying?

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          Uh, I guess you didn’t get the context in which I made that comment. We were talking about whether or not the car on track was electric or gas not “stock”. That is another conversation. So yes, I believe most people are still buying gas engine cars. I could be wrong but I don’t think so. Especially if you count light trucks, vans, and SUVs. Try to keep up.

          ….or was that sarcasm?

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            It was sarcasm, because, for example a V8 Camry is as rare as a sighting of Bigfoot. Hybrids are certainly more relevant than that. If you were talking plug in electrics I might agree with you but not on this.
            BTW Nascar left any semblance to what people drive years ago,

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            You don’t have to explain the whole lack of “stock cars” in NASCAR. It is a standard joke. I am confused though, what kind of cars are hybrids that don’t involve plug in electronics. Has Doc Brown finally created that fusion attachment like “Back To The Future” that can take garbage and turn it into energy?
            I thought true hybrids for sale to consumers did involve some sort of alternate energy that required electric recharging. By that definition, while you can claim they are relevant (whatever that means), you can’t claim they are the majority of what is currently being bought by consumers. No one I know even has a hybrid (not that that proves anything). Once again, when people start buying hybrids in mass, then maybe manufactures (not NASCAR) should start using the cup series to showcase those products.

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            True hybrid cars are not plugged in. The best known example of a hybrid is the Toyota Prius. They have both an electric motor and internal combustion engine. They use regenerative braking to harvest energy and charge the batteries. When going slow around town, they will often run on battery power alone, and sound like a golf cart. At speed, the gasoline engine take over. That’s why when you look at the EPA MPG ratings for a hybrid the city number is higher than the highway number. F1 uses this same technology using something called a KERS (kinetic energy recovery system). You always hear the engine running on an F1 car, the electric motor just assists, but never completely powers the car by itself. Fans still complain about the worse sound of the cars, but I think that is because when F1 went to hybrid systems, they paired it with V6s. The fans were used to the sound of V8s V10s and even V12s in the past. So if NASCAR went to hybrid cars, and if they kept them hybrid V8s, you likely wouldn’t notice any difference in the sound, they would just get better mpg’s.

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            Thanks for that info JD. I did not know that. I thought they had to be plugged in at some point. Again, thanks for the quick lesson.

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            Bill, no problem. They do make some plug in hybrids (PHEV’s) but most are not plug in i.e. most of the priuses on the road (although they do make a plug in version of that also). For fun google the Zombie 222 68 Mustang fastback – all electric conversion, 1000 hp, 1800 ft lb of torque and sub 2 second 0-60. I love the rumble of a good V8, but hell, a fast car is a fast car.

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    I will never forget the Corvette team running at Le Mans. It’s one of the favorites with the international set, mainly because of the sound of those ‘old fashioned’ V8 engines roaring around the track. I remember standing behin the old garage at Martinsville as practice started. rusty Wallace fired up that #2 and I felt that engine to my spine. Never forget the goosebumps it caused. The hyprid idea might sound good, but using the ‘stock car’ part of Nascar as a justification is ridiculous. Nascar hasn’t used truly stock cars in decades, so let’s not pretend that’s a good reason to do it.

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      sb – there is nothing like that wonderful sound of when they crank those cars. i will take that sound, as well as the smell of gasoline and burned rubber to my grave.

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    average person doesn’t by a hybrid because of the added cost. and when you have to replace that hybrid battery pack, i know someone who has a prius and it cost her $4000!

    of course this will come to be as it’s a ridiculous idea. and na$car owns the patent on ridiculous ideas lately.

    • Avatar
      Vito Pugliese -- FS Staff

      I feel there’s a disconnect between what a Hybrid is and what an EV is.

      Engines are NOT going away. Same sound. Same noise. Just something similar to KERS or an extended range by way of an auxiliary motor.

      • Avatar

        That is an interesting observation and probably true in my case and many others’. The way I feel is that there are already plenty of series that embrace technology to the nth degree. Maybe NASCAR is better served by not making the series about technology and embracing those who want something a little different.

        I get that the manufacturers should dictate when such a switch should be made based on what they want to manufacture and sell (which will usually be determined by demand). I just don’t think that decision should be made by NASCAR money-grubbers. If the manufactures say “we want electric cars” then we all pretty much have to accept that and react accordingly.

  10. Avatar

    Hey Vito. Let them “race” SUVs with 4 cylinder turbos. Paddle shifters. And whatever else will run up the costs.