Officially, the laboratory where concepts for the future of stock car racing are developed is the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina. But in recent years, the most important special event on the NASCAR calendar has become as much an exercise in live experiences as a million dollar dash.
Since 2017, the annual NASCAR All-Star Race between the best drivers in the Cup Series has been used as a proving and exhibition ground for potential changes to the NASCAR racing product or presentation. In 2017, several tire compounds were offered to feature varying strategies, while 2020 saw the sponsors move to the gate and the numbers slid to the rear tires in a paint scheme design change. Major changes have been made to the aerodynamics of the Cup cars: a restricted engine and a larger spoiler for the 2018 race served as a precursor to the current aerodynamic rules of NASCAR on larger tracks, while several concepts to try to create better performance for cars in circulation – including a radiator duct – were tried in 2019.
The 2021 All-Star Race is no different, and NASCAR’s willingness to be flexible with racing now extends to the very track it takes place on: having hosted the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway just once in In its history, NASCAR has hosted the All-Star Race -Star Race on three different tracks over the past three years. While a move to Bristol Motor Speedway last year was influenced by COVID-19 concerns, the 2021 schedule saw the race move outright to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Spinning the All-Star Race around certain venues had been a popular idea for years, and its practice was embraced by Brad Keselowski, who met CBS Sports before All-Star Weekend.
âI think it’s a great lever for our sport to pull and be able to pull to attract new markets and new fans,â Keselowski said. âIt’s such an interesting and compelling event that has the ability to attract new fans and keep them, which I think is good for everyone. So I really commend NASCAR for being prepared to do exactly that. that and try new things. “
The short duration of the All-Star Race makes it an ideal opportunity for NASCAR and its racing teams to test new ideas: as Keselowski explained, the short distance on All-Star night allows teams to be more aggressive in the way they set up their cars, which includes skipping certain items that involve endurance. This year, NASCAR reduced the power output of its speedway aerodynamics package from 550 to 510, in an effort to narrow the field and make drafting easier.
The power reduction met with considerable growls, which is perhaps NASCAR’s most polarizing issue right now: In 2019, NASCAR began offering a low power / high downforce aero package, with the idea that such a set would lead to a better racing product on tracks 1.5 miles or more in length. After considerable outcry, and the package negatively impacting drivers’ ability to shift over shorter tracks, NASCAR conceded by implementing another aero package with 750 horsepower and lower downforce.
Still, and especially with NASCAR’s Next Gen car on the horizon, less horsepower seems to be the way of the future: As stated in a story by Matt Weaver of Automatic week, the ‘550’ aerodynamic package is seen as a bridge to a next-gen engine platform, especially as the automotive industry as a whole moves away from garish power figures and raw speed – characteristics of traditional American automotive culture – and towards greater efficiency, environmental friendliness, and electrical components.
The very idea of ââmoving forward with a lower power has been fiercely opposed by some. But as Keselowski explained, it’s not that simple for Cup Series cars to produce as many horsepower as possible mechanically.
âA race car that produced 750 horsepower 20 years ago would run between 190 and 195 MPH. And a race car that produced 750 horsepower today on the same track with the same tires would run at around 210 MPH,â said Keselowski. “And you say ‘Okay, where did that come from?’ Well, aero has gotten so much more efficient on cars, which means the amount of downforce they produce – which pushes them to the ground and helps them take turns very quickly – compared to the amount of drag that slows them down right away has improved so much – this ratio is called a lift-over-drag, it’s a very simple aerodynamic equation – and what that actually did to the sport is that cars go too fast.
âSo the same amount of power, the cars would go too fast. And you come to a certain point where the cars overshoot the tire limits, take over the drivers’ limits to overtake, and create aero wakes and things like that. nature that really turned racing into something we didn’t want it to be, both from a competitive standpoint and from a safety standpoint. So when you add those two together I really think the downsizing, that’s where it comes from is that the cars had become so efficient and we don’t really have a mechanism to relax them, although we tried. â
To that end, Keselowski believes that different power models in NASCAR – especially the hybrid models offered by sports equipment manufacturers – have merit. However, he does not expect a point to be reached where market penetration is such that any hybrid element, like electrification, exceeds 50%.
âThere are still a lot of people who need your traditional gasoline engine, your traditional internal combustion engine,â Keselowski said. âAnd so at the end of the day what you get is this hybrid modelâ¦ I have to think we’re going to see it in NASCAR over the next ten years where we start to see hybrids. Where we will have a 550 engine with some sort. recovery unit or a hybrid system to take advantage of its full capabilities at more limited times. “
Whatever the future of power and engine technology in NASCAR, and whatever set of rules he uses, Keselowski is looking for his first million dollar prize for winning the All-Star Race. Keselowski’s best All-Star Race result came in 2012, when he finished second.