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Five issues NASCAR needs to address to improve the Gen6

By admin | December 20, 2013

 NASCAR put teams through a variety of scenarios in their recent Charlotte test session.

By Richard Allen

NASCAR recently completed what we can only hope was a very important test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The session was designed to provide the sanctioning body with information that could lead to changes in the Gen6 car currently being used in the sport.

Hopefully, something will come from said test that will lead to more passing and less parading on the track.

Here is a list of five things I hope NASCAR gained from last week. Granted, several of these points are interrelated, and to address one would at the same time address the others.

1. How to enable passing of the leader- It is an absolute must that this issue be taken care of. It often seems as if the only time fans see a lead change in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race is during pit stop exchanges and immediately after restarts.

The problem, as someone who has never driven or worked on a race car sees it, is that the cars have become so aero-dependent that when the lead machine cuts through and disturbs the air, those following experience extreme difficulty in getting their cars to handle well enough to make a move on the frontrunner.

Somehow, the aerodynamic advantage of the leader has to be taken away. That “wall of air” that exists between cars has to be diminished to the point that trailing cars can gain on the cars in front of them.

If only Ronald Reagan were here to exclaim, “Mr. France, tear down this wall…of air.”

Hopefully one of the changes that NASCAR put teams through in Charlotte will provide and answer to this most important of problems.

 2. How to get tire wear and fuel loads to equalize- To anyone who has watched a NASCAR race in recent times, it seems as if the same scenario plays out on a weekly basis. The race chugs along in a follow-the-leader type pattern until the end draws near and a fuel saving strategy begins to take shape. Then the race devolves into a gasoline stretch run in which the winner turns out to be the driver who is best able to squeeze the best mileage out of a car designed to run all out rather than coast along, sometimes with the engine switched off in the middle of the run.

Again, as someone who has never driven or worked on a race car, the problem I see is that the tires on the cars last too long. No one wants to see tires blowing out or a repeat of the Indianapolis debacle of a few years back, but at the same time, the excessively hard tires being brought to the tracks on a weekly basis by Goodyear are hurting the product.

Without tire wear, there is virtually no drop off in speed throughout each fuel run. As a result, differing driving styles make little difference. It’s those differing styles combined with the wearing of the tires that create more passing late in runs on abrasive tracks such as Darlington and Atlanta.

And again, hard tires turn races into fuel mileage stretches. Drivers and crew chiefs know their tires are not going to wear out, so they plan strategies around conserving fuel rather than racing all out. Predictably, more often than not, fuel becomes an issue during many Sprint Cup races. Having tires that fall off significantly might prevent this as those who pit for new rubber could possibly catch and pass those trying to conserve, thus setting up multiple strategies rather than scenarios in which everybody is doing the same thing.

 3. How to “unstick” the front ends of the cars- As I stated earlier, some of these points are very closely related. If point #1 is to be achieved, something is going to have to cause the leader’s car to be the same as all the others. As it is now, when the front car is in clean air, it is virtually impossible to pass because the trailing cars lack the down force to be able to keep pace.

Somehow, that has to change. Unfortunately, not only have I never driven or worked on a car, I am not an engineer either. However, it seems to me that the noses of the cars have to be raised up. Although Fox TV commentators Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds seem to enjoy watching slow motion replays of the front ends right down on the pavement, that is part of the problem.

A car in clean air gets to take full advantage of that down force as the air pushes the front end lower, and thus, plants the nose to the pavement. The trailing cars do not have the same ability because that essential air is too disturbed to provide the same benefit.

Whether it be taking away the bump stops, cutting away some of the front air dams, or something else, the noses of these cars need to come just as ”unstuck” for the leader as they are for everyone else.

 4. How to create a drafting effect on 1.5 mile tracks- The most telling tracks in terms of the aerodynamics in modern day racing are the so-called “cookie cutter” 1.5- 2 mile behemoths. These facilities are not big enough to require restrictor plates, but they are fast enough to cause the dreaded “aero-push”. And as stated above, that means the leader has a huge advantage in the turns as his nose is more firmly planted than those of his pursuers.

But not only does the leader have an advantage in the turns, he also has one on the straightaways. The front car hits the straights on these big tracks with more momentum because he got through the last set of turns better. Even if the trailing cars had more horsepower, they couldn’t make gains under those circumstances.

However, if that lead car were to punch a larger hole in the air than the current sleek body designs of the Gen6 call for, that would change. A drafting effect could be created with a bigger hole for the trailing cars to drive through. The result would be more passing on the straightaways.

Although it is a completely different animal, IndyCar achieved something similar to this in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Pulling up on and passing the leader became commonplace in that race. It was almost a disadvantage to be out front. If such can be achieved in that form of racing, surely NASCAR can come up with something similar.

Seemingly, the most obvious fix would be to place a small strip of metal across the roof of each car as has been done in the past. Again, I am not an engineer so it may not be that simple. But something needs to be done to make the cars stand taller against the wind to create that ‘pulling up’ factor on these tracks that need all the help they can get.

 5. How to slow the cornering speeds down- Drivers can’t do much racing in the turns when they are holding on for dear life at ridiculous speeds. Modern day Sprint Cup cars, and virtually all race cars in general, are going too fast through the turns. Quite simply, the engineering and technology have out grown the facilities, the tires, and in some cases, the abilities of the drivers.

As stated before, to implement some of the changes above will also cause a change in this area as well. If the noses of the cars are “unstuck”, drivers will have to slow down. If straightaway speeds are dialed down, corner speeds will follow suit.

With the technology and engineering available to today’s teams, these cars are very close on horsepower. As a result, if the racing is to improve, it will have to be done in the turns. Addressing the issues above, would no doubt slow cars down in the turns and allow drivers to go side-by-side and pass rather than just hang on.

It is my hope, and likely the hope of most NASCAR fans, that racing improves in 2014. The five issues I have listed above are critical to creating an environment in which passing is done on the track instead of in the pits.

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13 Responses to “Five issues NASCAR needs to address to improve the Gen6”

  1. Russ Says:
    December 20th, 2013 at 10:21 am

    While all of your points are valid a couple of points to keep in mind.
    A. Its a spec series that tries to resemble street cars. At the same time “tolerances” are given to allow teams to work in the grey areas. No matter what you do it only takes a small tweak to separate a car from the rest of the field.

    B. Remember down force can be generated as easily from underneath the car as from the upper surface.

  2. RacingFan Says:
    December 20th, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Rich, you make good points. I also hope for the best with the changes being implemented. However, I am worried, because most drivers recommended taking away downforce, but the opposite was adopted. NASCAR assumes that when drivers are comfortable, they will make more passing moves in the corners. I don’t believe that. What will happen is that the cars will run more of the same speed all the way around the track, instead of having to slow down and speed up entering and leaving the corners.

    I remember a debate years ago between Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison, where Darrell was arguing that a taller spoiler made for better racing, while Bobby disagreed. As of today, I feel Bobby was right. Differing strategies of drivers to deal with the struggle to get to car to handle in the corners is what produces passing.

    Years ago, a leader could sometimes be loosened up by the second place car driving right up to his bumper and taking the air off his spoiler. Presently, the trailing car can’t even get there, but a big blade probably provides enough downforce to keep the leader stable anyways. Russ’ point about downforce being generated underneath the car is a good one, too

    I also remember one of the early NASCAR races at Indy where the third place car drafted up and pushed the second place car down many straights (but backed off his spoiler in the corners) until they caught the leader. It was interesting to watch and couldn’t be done by amateurs.

    Some of the things NASCAR needs today to provide passing could probably be found by engineers analyzing cars in the NASCAR museum or maybe, as you mentioned, the IndyCars of today.

  3. Leto Says:
    December 20th, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Drafting on the superspeedways actually happens pretty regularly now (especially at tracks like Michigan & Fontana). The difference is that, unlike at Dega/Daytona, the tracks don’t let the drivers carry the speed into the corner to where they get locked together.

    As for suggesting that NASCAR copy IndyCar, my only comment is that I am having issues controlling my laughter at that suggestion. IndyCar needed “excitement” and is relying on gimmicks to basically stay alive right now (dual races, the Indy Grand Prix, etc).
    The slingshot move in the Indy 500 didn’t improve racing. You can have a lead change every lap, but that doesn’t mean that it’s better RACING. The Indy 500 last year wasn’t really all that great. You knew that no matter what, the guy leading was at most about 3 laps away from being passed; there wasn’t much strategy going on in that department until about the last 30 laps when you had to start planning on when to take the lead so that you could win.

    Here’s an idea: instead of NASCAR adopting rules from other series (group qualifying on road courses, etc.), let’s have NASCAR be its own series. NASCAR is the most popular and most successful racing series in the US (and probably several other countries). Before we start saying that NASCAR should copy rules and ideas from other series, we should probably make sure that those other series are relevant in the grand scheme of things. Within the US, NASCAR dominates. IndyCar, F1, and the various sportscar series are a distant second.

  4. Terry T Says:
    December 20th, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Yeah Leto, I’m glad someone else out there understands how awful it would be if the leader was getting passed every 3 laps.

    Seriously though, have you taken a look at the grandstands lately? That number 1 racing series in the US clearly knows what they are doing.

  5. Leto Says:
    December 21st, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Grandstand attendance is not the only thing that matters to a major sports sanctioning body like NASCAR.

    The tracks make millions off TV deals and other agreements. There’s a reason that a track like Indy can have their low attendance rates and still make millions of their NASCAR & Grand-Am dates, even when they give away tens of thousands of free tickets. Tracks are lucky if their ticket sales cover the cost of their NASCAR sanction fees; it’s their race sponsorship deals and TV contracts with NASCAR that are where they make their bread and butter.

    These TV deals simply don’t exist in the same fashion for IndyCar or Sportscars.

    Quite bluntly: As long as millions of people tune in to watch NASCAR on TV, and companies like Fox/NBC are willing to spend literally billions to cover the series, grandstand attendance could literally be zero and the sport would survive.

  6. Tony Geinzer Says:
    December 22nd, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    6 Rules Changes Tony is happy to ask for:

    1. Twin Races for Every Points Paying Weekend.
    2. Have Liberty to change Models of Cars, NOT, legislate the car in the box.
    3. Bring Back Dodge! I don’t want no Toyota, and I want to see more European and American Sports Cars. (Let’s See How an Aston Martin would handle Knoxville vs. Silverstone or LeMans or Monaco)
    4. Tire Choice. Have Hoosiers in the Midwest and South, McCrearies in the Northeast and Canada, Goodyears and Firestones out west.
    5. Why not have Indy Cars best and brightest settle a National Championship where there is no stigma (Road America, Mid Ohio, Road Atlanta, Brainerd, Michigan,Texas, Mesquite and Houston Battleground, to name a few)
    6. Instead of the Crew Chief being sly and elusive like Chad “You Can Hate Him Knaus, But It Won’t Stop ” Knaus like he is his own Nas Entry Theme from “Hate Me Now”, why not have Him/Her in the Car AT ALL TIMES a la Rallycar?

  7. Bill H Says:
    December 23rd, 2013 at 11:37 am

    “No non-loadbearing member of the car can be closer to the pavement than 5 inches when the car is at racing speed.”

    Simple rule, easily enforced, which essentially eliminates downforce and the “areopush” problem. It will make the car harder to drive, but that is a plus, not a problem. No more keeping the gas pedal flat on the firewall. The driver most highly skilled at balancing brakes and throttle, best able to control the car deeper into turns and able to get on the gas soonest exiting turns, will win the race.

    The race from the viewer standpoint will be vastly more exciting. I know that to be a fact. I used to watch races before they became dominated by aerodynmamics.

  8. Tim Says:
    December 23rd, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Believe it or not, this shouldn’t be that difficult. To punch a bigger hole:

    1) open up the grill a bit more and prohibit taping of the grill - that would get more air under and through the car and force the leader to actually punch through the air. And duct tape - really? How has that become such a game-changer in top-tier racing?
    2) mandate a much lower rad cap pressure so that the radiators actually need airflow - now with the ridiculously high pressures in the cooling system, very little air is required to keep the engines cool
    3) add a wicker across the top of the car just behind the windshield to disrupt the air flow
    4) taller spoiler

    Also, agreed on the tires. Tires that give up grip over a run are sorely needed. Surely the tall foreheads at Goodyear can manage to find a better balance instead of just defaulting to the hockey pucks they run on now. A proper tire would lead to higher corner speeds at the start of a run, but much lower speeds as the run progresses. Comers and goers make for passing and better racing. Watch any longer distance short track race at your local track. They guys that know how to manage tires best and have done their homework with a nice balanced setup usually win. It’s easy to spot the rabbits that have huge grip at the green flag by just dialing up rebound on front-end shocks to compensate for a bad setup. They get passed pretty quick when their overloaded tires give up early.

    A more macro solution would be to address points as well, but good luck on that… There should be an incentive to win and run up front. F1 actually has this figured pretty good, with a huge weight towards winning and finishing in the top half of the field. I mean really, in NASCAR now, the point difference between 23rd and 43rd is the same as 2nd to 22nd. The penalty for pushing for a win and having an issue is way too disproportinate to the risk. Big points weighted towards the front, and no points after 20th would go a long way to increasing competition. Does anyone care who finished 21st or 43rd??

  9. Charles Says:
    December 23rd, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    The bottom line is that the quality of the racing will never improve on the bigger tracks until the cars are slowed down by 15 MPH. The cars are simply going too fast. I predicted that the 2013 season would not feature good racing, simply because of the speeds, and I proved to be right. This goes back to what drivers such as Tom Sneva were saying as far back as the late 1970s about faster speed not equating to good racing. He was right then, and he’s right now.

    Cornering speeds are also an issue, but so is the horsepower of the engines, because they’re simply making too much horsepower, and if you slow the cars down by taking horsepower away, that will automatically slow them down in the corners. Taking horsepower away also will allow the cars to stay closer together, and allow the draft to become a bigger factor. The 1971 Daytona 500 is a great example. The cars were allowed to stay closer together because they weren’t making nearly as much horsepower due to running restrictor plates. Now, I don’t think restrictor plates are needed on all tracks, but I do think that 100-150 HP does need to be taken away, especially on the bigger tracks.

    The question then becomes, how to slow the cars down, but until they’re slowed down, the quality of the racing will not improve, because aerodynamics will be a factor, as will the amount of track a car will need to use at the higher speeds. Perhaps transitioning to smaller engines, as was done in the 1970s, is the answer, but exactly how they would do that is anyone’s guess.

  10. Tim Says:
    December 23rd, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Going slower just to go slower is never a good option in racing. You need to push limits. Only at the limit of available grip can the skills of a driver and crew chief become apparent. Lower horsepower could work, but only if other variables are considered like suspensions and tires. Just going slower means that even the worst-engineered cars will just flat-foot it around a track. Need to add driver control by making sure everyone must lift off the gas in corners. Lower banking and tires with less grip are a good place to start. Good luck with that though…

  11. Kenneth Says:
    December 23rd, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    I never heard of aero push before bump stops and coil binding. I agree with you and some of your other readers, that the cars need less down force in order to slow them down. If you get rid of both coil binding and bump stops, there would be less down force on the front so they could use smaller rear spoilers. Then it would be more driving skill than aero. If they do all of this, I’m sure the leader would be passed more often. Speaking of passing, PASS it on to NASCAR!

  12. Bill Says:
    December 23rd, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Tim is pretty much right, “tires with less grip” sounds good. If you took away the tremendous downforce, would not the tires have less “grip”? It seems like NASCAR doesn’t even care, they don’t seem to care at all how bad their “show” looks. Why in the world didn’t they have a car or two saw off that damn splitter and see what a really “stock” configuration would do. They built the downforce into the Charlotte track in 1960 (duh by banking the track), they cars do not need any more!!

  13. Charles Says:
    December 24th, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Other things should be done, of course, but nothing will change on the track if they don’t slow the cars down, because the faster the cars go, the worse the aero-push problems will become because the effects can be felt from further away. Also, the faster the cars go, more and more track is needed just to keep the cars off the wall.

    Also, in order to make the tires softer so that they can wear more, the cars have to be slowed down because if they aren’t, softer tires will just blow out more and more. They now have to run harder tires because softer tires simply can not withstand the speeds that are run. In fact, at Michigan in 2012, NASCAR and Goodyear had to change the tire compound during he race weekend because of the extreme speeds that were being run.

    In other words, if they slow the cars down about 15 MPH, that will allow them to run softer tires, which in turn will make tire conservation more important, and that will allow for more passing because drivers will no longer be able to run all-out the entire time. I think the key is slowing the cars down, because that will allow the tire companies to run softer tires without risking constant blow outs, which would put more in the driver’s hands.

    Another thing that has affected the quality of the racing is the fuel cells. They used to have to run 90-100 miles on a tank of fuel and tires, but now they can only go 70-80 miles on a tank of fuel, so when the tires begin to wear, it doesn’t matter, because it’s time to refuel anyway, which means an automatic tire change. They need to find a way to make it so they have to go farther on a tank of fuel, because it’s no different from an IndyCar race, as far as fuel strategy goes, because they now go as far on a tank of fuel as IndyCars do. (IndyCars have only been able to go about 70-80 miles on a tank of fuel since the mid-70s.)