Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: How to Settle the Short Track Horsepower Debate

It all started with a question from Bubba Wallace to the media Friday at Phoenix after his first practice session in the Cup Series’ new short track package.

“Is this 2023 or 2024?,” Wallace said. “It feels like ‘23. There’s your answer.”

Wallace was responding to questions on how different the car felt from last year. Despite a larger rear spoiler and smaller diffuser meant to increase downforce and allow closer racing and better car control, the majority of drivers didn’t see much improvement on their end. Goodyear’s new tire helped with faster wear, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the issues that persist with the Next Gen Car.

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With driver displeasure for the car came fans’ displeasure for an on-track product that saw minimal improvement from previous years’ short track races, at a time when three short tracks are coming up over the next four weeks.

Bubba’s comments made their way back to car owner Denny Hamlin during his media availability later that weekend. Hamlin, like his driver, was in favor of more horsepower than the current 650-hp build and argued it could be changed with a few phone calls and wouldn’t hurt a team’s bottom line or performance.

“Any horsepower you can add can make the racing better,” Hamlin said.

To further his argument for more horsepower, Hamlin had a further discussion on his Actions Detrimental podcast where he discussed testing with even less horsepower before the introduction of the Next Gen Car.

“We ran a December test at Charlotte the December before it came out (with 550 horsepower) and we said, ‘This is terrible, you can not do this. This is so bad,'” Hamlin said. “And so they bumped it up to 650. We were supposed to run 550, I could not imagine. The racing would be really, really bad for sure. That’s why I argue, hey, just give us what we had a few years ago. The 750.”

Soon it wasn’t just Hamlin beating the drum for drivers wanting more horsepower. On the Dale Jr. Download, Kyle Larson threw in his perspective on why more horsepower equals better racing for everyone.

“I think your difference in top speed to minimum speed would be much greater, so I think that would allow you to create different styles of how to get around a corner,” Larson said. “It’s just going to allow for drivers to make more mistakes as you enter the corner much faster or having to lift much earlier. I think it makes the breaking zones longer, which helps too. When you have that power, you can run different lines and use that horsepower to accelerate.

“I hope someday in my career they can at least try it, I don’t know, somewhere, Richmond or wherever and go test. Go to Martinsville and try it out.”

Brad Moran, the Cup Series managing director, provided the perspective of NASCAR in an interview Tuesday with Sirius XM Radio’s Pete Pistone and Mike Bagley, saying lower horsepower is meant to cap costs and be more inviting to prospective manufacturers to join the sport.

“The number we’re at seems to be where we want to be to try to get potentially new manufacturers interested,” Moran said. “If we start getting away from that number, it can create problems in that area. But we’re always open to everything.”

Open to everything? How about NASCAR giving Larson and the lot a chance to put this debate to an end with a test. But it shouldn’t be at Richmond, nor Martinsville. It shouldn’t be a closed session for everyone to catch a glimpse of on their timelines.

NASCAR should let the teams bring their 750-horsepower engines to the newly repaved North Wilkesboro Speedway on May 19 for the All-Star Race. With $1 million on the line, let the drivers put their money where their motor is for the fans to see.

What better venue and event to allow NASCAR to test something out with their short track package they haven’t before? After all, the All-Star Race and other exhibition events have always been a testing ground throughout its history and — like most sports leagues — especially so in the past decade.

Stage racing and green-flag regulated finishes were a staple of the All-Star Race dating all the way back to the 1980s. Today, stage points and overtime are words you can hear during every NASCAR broadcast.

The choose cone that’s a given each and every week now? NASCAR first tried that at the 2020 All-Star Race at Bristol. That same race was when NASCAR first experimented with moving the number further back for more sponsor space and cool lights under the car. Neither of those clicked with fans initially, but NASCAR managed to find a better number solution while ditching the lights.

The choice of North Wilkesboro itself last season, plus the move to Texas and Bristol in years prior, was NASCAR trying things with its All-Star format, and all signs indicate success. When they come back in May, there’ll be a fresh coat of pavement that initial testing from the Cup and Truck Series shows increased speed and retained character.

If the move works and racing is better, great! NASCAR has a few-week stretch where it can further deliberate if it wants to make a change before the return to short track racing at Iowa Speedway on June 16. If it isn’t ready to make a switch by then, then it can after the Olympic break and still have four short track races with a revived package.

If it doesn’t move the needle, then NASCAR can tell the drivers ‘told you so’ and we can move on … at least until someone brings up horsepower next year. Plus, it’s not like it has the chance to ruin anybody’s season in a non-points race if it’s a disaster.

NASCAR’s hands are tied in terms of what changes it can make midseason to a package. It can’t really just take all the new spoilers, diffusers and tires and throw them out. Plus, there’s no telling what it can plan to change in the coming seasons with the Next Gen car. That said, horsepower does sound like the one thing that NASCAR can change if it really wanted.

If it does decide that a change is a possibility, why not drum up some buzz about it? A new ‘never-before-seen’ thing (at least for the Next Gen car) to try out in one of their marquee events sounds like a shot worth taking.

About the author

James Krause joined Frontstretch in March 2024 as a contributor. Krause was born and raised in Illinois and graduated from Northern Illinois University. He currently works in La Crosse, Wisconsin as a local sports reporter, including short track racing. Krause is a fan of football, auto racing, music, anime and video games.

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sb

Great idea.

Christopher

NASCAR is remarkably and irretrievably dense. Blathering about attracting other manufacturers (for years) and citing that as reason for the anemic horsepower…Honda builds 1200 horsepower engines for F1. A 750HP engine is not going to make them shy away from NASCAR.

Shayne

It’s a head scratcher for sure. Where’s Paul Harvey with the rest of the story? The truth would be a nice change.

DoninAjax

Never expect NA$CAR to make a decision based on logic and common sense.

janice

amen!!!!

Phil

Trying more HP in the All Star race sounds like a reasonable and FUN idea!

DoninAjax

Didn’t NA$CAR have to cut engine power because Toyota couldn’t get to what the other manufacturers had?

WJW Motorsports

Ha! I was wondering/waiting to see if anyone remembered that at all. I think I can recall poor Denny whining about the under-powered Toyotas at Pocono. Next thing you know, magic happens and JGR wins 2-3 Cup Championships .. go figure.

Joshua

Seriously! Give them 750 HP or let teams go back to building their own engines…and give that aspect of “stock” back. As for the lights under the cars at Bristol…that looked cool and all the chose cone rule does is add laps to the cautions at the end of stages. I think last week at Phoenix, at the end of stage 2, there were at least 10 laps of caution. That’s really cutting green flag racing.

Jeremy

At one time, NA$CAR was a proving ground for manufacturers to try and test out new advances in the evolution of the automobile. I think the current trend towards 6 cylinder and even 4 cylinder turbo engines (dare I say Hybrids too) suggests NA$CAR should go back to those roots. Especially if they want to attract new manufacturers to the game. Even Dodge is scrapping the V8 engine! Much as I hate to see it go (love the sound of a V8 winding up through the gears), the future is in smaller displacement turbos and hybrids which are making as much or more power than the V8’s they are replacing. I know old die-hard fans like me will hate it, but if they’re going to stay relevant in the future – and if they want to attract new manufacturers to the series – they are going to have to make that change. Plus it will be a bonus to consumers as testing in this harsh environment will lead to improvements in both power and durability on the street.

Jeremy

I’m a dummy. That was supposed to be a reply to Christopher’s post about attracting Honda and other manufacturers to NA$CAR who make high output engines that are not necessarily V8’s.

LJschalm

NASCAR Open to everything? Good thing I was sitting down, else I would have fallen over laughing. You want to make better racing? Turn off the darn rearview camera and go back to spotters clearing people. If you want more passing, reduce the opportunity to block. We hear some version of the same story every week. Bad enough we can “arrow” block…adding the wide view camera only makes passing that more difficult. While we are at, reduce the width of the tires/wheels. One change (turn of the mirror) is virtually … narrower tires will take a little time, but it darn sure could be done.

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