Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Does NASCAR Need Big Package Changes Before North Wilkesboro?

With another lack luster Next Gen short track race in the books, the rumblings of dissatisfaction with the product the new car has been producing are growing louder.

During the lean years of the 2010s when the mid-sized tracks were average at best, fans and the industry alike could always count on the restrictor plate tracks and short tracks to cleanse the palette and re-energize the base. With a milestone moment coming up next month with the revival of North Wilkesboro Speedway for the All-Star Race, might it be time for NASCAR to take some action to help this watershed event for NASCAR’s 75th anniversary?

This week, Amy Henderson and Wyatt Watson try to out-brake each other in 2-Headed Monster.

Don’t Do it, NASCAR. No, Really. Please Don’t

OK, we all agree that the Next Gen cars haven’t put on the world’s most exciting races on the shorter and flatter tracks. 

It was bad enough last year that drivers requested changes during an off-season test session at Phoenix Raceway beyond NASCAR’s original intent. The final 2023 short-track package features some of those changes. When the package made its race debut at that same track in March, there were some improvements, but the drivers said then, almost to a man, that the changes alone weren’t enough.

So yes, this thing needs some tweaks.

What it does not need is for NASCAR to go full NASCAR and throw everything but the kitchen sink at it at the All-Star Race.

Yes, it’s true that the All-Star event has been used in the past to test possible package changes. As a testing ground, it has some perks: there are no points on the line, but it is a race and that’s a better test than … well, a test. The drivers are going to try to pass each other and will push the envelope, something that doesn’t happen in an open test session.

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But hold up here. The All-Star event was, until 2020, held at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway. Changes they tried weren’t necessarily immediate ones; some were not implemented until the following year. And they were mainly tweaks to body pieces and suspensions.

The All-Star Race is only a month away, and it’s at North Wilkesboro Speedway, a track that hasn’t seen Cup Series action in decades. None of the drivers are familiar with it the way most were with Charlotte. Most have never driven on it at all.

Did I mention it’s a month away?

North Wilkesboro might have been a good choice of venue to try things despite its relative unfamiliarity because it’s a short, flat track … you know, the kind where the issues are.

But the changes that need to be made aren’t ones that can be made in time for that race.

Doug Yates, whose company builds engines for all of the factory-backed Ford teams in the Cup Series said Wednesday in a press conference that an increase in horsepower was feasible for this season, but it would likely be a smaller one than needed, around 50-100 hp total increase. The current package is 670 hp and some drivers have said they’d like to see it as high as 900-1000 when all is said and done.

Yates said that NASCAR would have to consider a change that drastic for 2024 at the earliest. 750 may be more realistic.

A month isn’t a lot of turnaround even for a small increase. NASCAR could use a larger spacer on the manifolds to allow more air and more throttle response (and that’s something they could and should try sooner rather than later), but sweeping changes take time to build in.

The other change that would make a major difference is raising the cars off the ground several inches, forcing teams to replace aerodynamic grip with mechanical grip. Making cars less reliant on clean air would make an impact, but because car bodies come from outside suppliers, making major changes to any of the panels, nose, and tail would take much more than a month; parts supplies are tight as it is.

A major change to the way the car grips the track could likely also require a different tire compound and there’s simply no time for a tire test and production run.

The time frame is simply too tight to make the kind of meaningful changes that could turn the racing around before North Wilkesboro awakens for the first time in a generation.

Small tweaks? Sure. Some drivers advocated for removing the spoiler altogether; they could  try that, maybe some suspension adjustments. Open up the spacer to give a bit more throttle response.

But at this point, any large changes would be rushed at best, careless at worst and most likely not the long-term solution NASCAR, the drivers, or the fans need.  

Look, the spring Martinsville race was better than it was a year ago. NASCAR has a long way to go and a lot of improvements still on the table. But the last thing anyone needs is a full-scale panic move. It’s better to take the time to be right than to throw spaghetti at it until it sticks. 

We all know changes are needed. But the only thing worse than not making them a priority in the off-season would be to make teams deal with a band-aid that won’t stick. – Amy Henderson

Listen to Your Drivers and Fanbase: Up the Horsepower!

With how the Next Gen car has been running at short tracks the past two years, it makes me ask: where did NASCAR go wrong?

For arguably most of its 75-year history. NASCAR has never had a problem with it’s short-track product until now. What gives?

Well, there are a few things that the new generation of NASCAR has done to cost the product on NASCAR’s storied short tracks, but the aero package, transmission, and engine have to be blamed for the blunder of product that us fans are left with.

It’s a shame because NASCAR tried to sell its fan base that the Next Gen car would provide superior short track and road coarse racing, yet it has left us with almost no passing at Phoenix Raceway and Martinsville Speedway and is killing the passion to watch short-track racing for me, personally.

First, NASCAR failed to make the aero package help in terms of its short track product. Although they tried during the off-season to manipulate the spoiler and rear diffusers to help the product, those minute changes have not gotten the sport back to its recent former glory.

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Changing the aero package only improved slightly at Richmond Raceway and Phoenix and I mean slightly. I will admit that the cars could pass better at Richmond, but at Phoenix, for the most part (unless your name is Kevin Harvick, Phoenix’s winningest driver) all the drivers could manage after the restart was maybe some side-by-side action.

At Martinsville, almost nothing changed. The car is too stable for the most part to be moved out of the way unless they’re full sent, and aero means next to nothing at Martinsville. The problem at Martinsville lies farther in the two other issues.

Secondly, the way NASCAR built its five-speed transmission assists in the damaged short-track product we see today. The transmission works against producing a good racing product by eliminating fear of missing a corner from either tire wear or driving in too deep, with the option to downshift. By doing so, it conspires to eliminate an important aspect of NASCAR: strategy.

While Richmond did not have this issue, it was clearly displayed last week at Martinsville with the likes of Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finishing second and eighth, respectfully, after making calls for no tires. None of the drivers on fresh tires could pass because of how the transmission is set up for Martinsville and the stability of the cars.

Finally, and most of all, the lack of horsepower in the engine kills competition throughout the field. Focusing on short tracks, however, NASCAR lowered the horsepower from the Gen 6 to the Next Gen car by over 80 horsepower. Giving teams lower horsepower eliminates competition because the drivers will have less power to use off the turn to potentially get a pass done. Additionally, higher horsepower would mean that drivers would have to brake earlier giving the competitors a better chance to make a pass. The higher horsepower would also give way to more tire wear and higher lap time fall off, leading to better competition overall.

Increasing the horsepower at a track like Martinsville or Richmond wouldn’t put drivers in danger either. It is within the bounds of safety to make changes in the name of better and exhilarating competition.

To put things in perspective, the cars today have less horsepower than what you can buy at any Chevrolet, Ford, or Dodge dealership.

Although the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro looms closer, do I think that this get addressed? Not immediately. NASCAR will more than likely stall until the off-season to try to address these issues. However, I have heavy doubts that anything necessary to fix the product at short tracks will ever be changed to the car. It seems like the drivers and fans of the sport are stuck with until a massive overhaul is conducted by NASCAR on how they make their car.

Frankly, it seems like NASCAR will wait until the eighth generation car is produced before things get significantly better with short track racing. – Wyatt Watson

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

Wyatt Watson has followed NASCAR closely since 2007. He joined Frontstretch as a journalist in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter, collecting exclusive content for Frontstretch.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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janice

with all the hype surrounding the allstar race at north wilkesboro, nascar will have massive egg on their face if the race is crap. also, will they use wet tires if, mother nature decides to throw a wrench into the allstar race event?

DoninAjax

Maybe they could add a wing?

wildcats2016

ha ha – oh no!

WJW Motorsports

Good article, thanks both. Who would have thought a sports car with giant tires and a 5/6-speed sequential with independent suspension wouldn’t race well on a short track? Shaking my head. But we’ve seen this dog and pony show many times before.. On the all-star race, love NW but loathe the all-star race so much they could hold it on the moon and I wouldn’t watch.

dawg

You mentioned that NASCAR implemented some changes the drivers asked for.

Good on them, but over the years they have been a lot better at talking, than listening.

Some of the best minds in the sport are among the drivers, crew chiefs, & race engineers. NASCAR needs to get them together, & listen to what they have to say.

Some incremental changes can be made now, but the real meaningful changes will probably need to come out of off season testing.

This needs to be a team effort between the teams, NASCAR, & Goodyear.

I want my street tires to last a 100,000 miles, & they do as long as I buy top line Michelins, keep the pressures checked, & rotate them.

A race tire on the other hand, needs to degrade at a predictable rate. Martinsville showed the impact that tires that are too long lasting, have on the racing.

Tires may be low hanging fruit, but it’s a place to start during the season.

J.W. Farmer

Over 600 HP is not something you can commonly buy at the dealership dear. However, I agree with all of the points you make.

Christopher

Maybe NASCAR should give Don Hawk a call and borrow the SRX cars for all the short track races left this year, a spec car that nevertheless puts on great shows at small tracks.

Last edited 1 year ago by Christopher
Bill B

Don’t they throw a caution every 15 laps? If so, how would anyone be able to say the car would put on a good show without those cautions?

Shayne

NASCAR will blame North Wilksboro if the race doesn’t exceed their expectations. Marcus Smith and Dale Jr. have talked the talk. I don’t know how much of their own money has been spent on this project. It’s easy spending that taxpayer money.

North Wilksboro has very few hotel rooms and only a few fast food joints. Nothing near the track. Experienced fans will bring campers, tents, and everything else needed to enjoy the weekend.

I hope North Wilksboro doesn’t get abandoned again when the cash cow is slaughtered.

janice

This is what I think will happen. After all star race nascar will look at things and say thanks but no thanks to 2024 season.

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