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NASCAR 101: A Potential Trip Down to Electric Avenue

Earlier this week, buzz began circulating around the NASCAR world in regards to a very old topic: new manufacturer interest. With Ford, Chevy and Toyota as the baseline, many believe that the sport needs new blood to grow the right way.

Those people would be correct. NASCAR is at a crossroads in the sense of manufacturer participation. Plenty has changed about the sport in the last decade and even more beyond that, but one thing has remained the same: the powertrains of big, thumping V8 engines that rattle racetrack walls have always been at the center of it all.

That noise has become synonymous with NASCAR and its history, but now, all that could be about to change. Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal reported earlier this week that NASCAR could make the move to a different powertrain model as soon as 2026 or 2027.

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What would NASCAR’s most viable options be, and what manufacturers would be interested in a switch?

The two main manufacturers that NASCAR has been in talks with in terms of joining the current stable are reportedly Honda and Hyundai. Honda has a rich motorsport history of its own, and Hyundai is making plenty of moves in the auto industry as of late to better position itself to benefit from motorsport participation.

The rub for those two global automotive titans, though, is the powertrain. Neither will join with the current setups in place, and why should they? Every tuned-in NASCAR fan has heard about Toyota’s nonexistent V8 Camry, and Honda or Hyundai would have the same issue. The original saying has always been win on Sunday, sell on Monday, but with none of their production vehicles harboring something remotely close to the engines used in the NASCAR Cup Series, those benefits significantly decrease.

Toyota has used NASCAR to boost the sale of its TRD Camry line, but outside of that, the titan of the industry has no pushrod V8s in cars that customers can buy on the lot. Honda and Hyundai would be in that same boat out of the gate, and that’s not exactly good for business.

What Toyota would probably prefer, though, is to take some of the turbocharged hybrid engines that are implemented in their popular consumer vehicles like the Tacoma, 4Runner and Land Cruiser and tune them up to racing standards. Then, not only would manufacturers have an in-house platform from which to build, but they could also then turn around and sell that same engine to consumers. Again, win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

Where do electric vehicles factor into this equation? Simply put, they don’t — at least not right now. Manufacturers were bullish on the EV craze, and now with sales slowing down, most have pulled back on the rapidity of their releases. EVs aren’t a jump that NASCAR or any other automotive manufacturer wants to make in this situation. That means, like almost everyone else across the globe, hybrids will be the way of the future.

What could that look like, then? NASCAR already owns IMSA, a branch of motorsport that has to remain on the cutting edge of technology in order for teams to be competitive. For those who have never tuned in to an IMSA race, think about how nerdy Formula 1 is and double it. It’s a known fact that NASCAR has been testing hybrid technology for a while now, and it could be coming at the perfect time.

Hybrid technology is something that every large automotive manufacturer has engineering experience with as well. Sales of HEVs have skyrocketed in recent years, leading every manufacturer to offer hybrid powertrain options in their everyday consumer lineups. That makes two things true. First, NASCAR is going to have to adopt, at the very least, new engine guidelines if it wants to attract new manufacturers. Also, it looks like hybrid technology is the way that the powers that be will take this. What does that really mean, though?

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First, there are concerns with parity. NASCAR would have to implement this new technology in a way that doesn’t give it an advantage or disadvantage against the already-dominant pushrod V8 powertrain being used by Ford, Chevy and Toyota. The powerbands will be vastly different on a naturally aspirated V8 such as the ones currently in use now, and a smaller, higher-revving turbocharged engine with hybrid technology. The cars would race completely differently. It would take immense refinement to get them even remotely close to driving the same way.

On top of that, there is the sheer amount of fan pushback that will occur if anything besides a V8 engine is put in any stock car on the sport’s largest circuit. Sure, fans are OK with legends cars running crotch-rocket engines or the local mechanic’s 2002 Camry that has a roll cage welded into it being entered into the street stock class at the local track, but hearing turbocharged six-cylinder engines fly around Daytona International Speedway? The average NASCAR fan wouldn’t like it one bit.

The way forward is hybrid technology, and there’s no getting around that. However, it looks like NASCAR could be headed for a world in which pushrod V8 cars share the track with high-revving rocket ships. That’s a concept that’s been amazing to watch in the past. Race fans who are further along in their years might be able to remember watching Ford Cortinas, Mini Coopers and early Mustangs share tracks together overseas, but that’s not something the modern era of NASCAR has seen. Will it be received the same?

Yes, NASCAR is at a crossroads. The decisions made in regards to what moves the cars forward will impact much more than that simple act. They will decide whether or not the sport moves forward, too.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

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MikeinAz

When Nascar goes electric, I’ll be done. I have zero interest in watching a bunch of sewing machines go around in circles.

Tom

I think NASCAR should use a 2.5L twin-turbo DOHC inline-4 with a 200 HP hybrid motor. That should produce in total between 750-800 HP. The electric motor would kick in when the cars are under caution.

MikeinAz

I think, NOT. Most Nascar fans like the sound from a big V8 not little sewing machine engines with or without a turbocharger and electric motors.

Tom

Hybridization is the future whether you like it or not. Also the last major engine architecture change was back in 2012 when the Cup engines switched to electronic fuel injection. Even then they just modified the old engines to use electronic fuel injection instead of making brand new engines altogether.

MikeinAz

We will see. Hopefully if it occurs at all, it’s decades away. After this administration is voted out of the WH this Nov, Trump will slow this rapid ridiculous push to green energy down or better yet totally stop it. If NASCAR doesn’t want to ruin their product, they better not go to hybrids or worse, total electric, which would be a total disaster.

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