How soon will NASCAR go electric?
With how things are going in motorsports—new technologies being introduced more often than you can digest—it is safe to say that electric cars will eventually make their way to the NASCAR race tracks.
But when? Well, spoiler: Not 2022-soon.
Next Gen: A New Era
Last May 2021, NASCAR unveiled the seventh-generation Cup series race car—the NASCAR Next Gen.
The NASCAR Next Gen cars draw inspiration from Australian Supercar and GT3 racers to modernize the Cup car, which has evolved slowly since the series was founded in 1948. Manufacturers are now allowed to shape their race cars to better represent the road cars they share names with. After years of promise and challenges, this will mark the culmination of the most ambitious NASCAR project.
With NASCAR’s Next Gen cars driving into the spotlight, a lot of change is coming to define a new era of stock car auto racing.
“In my opinion, the importance of this car can’t be overstated,” according to NASCAR President Steve Phelps. “There are many things that Next Gen will do for us as a sport when it rolls out in 2022. The styling is going to be amazing. I think the racing is going to be better based on the aerodynamics of the vehicle.”
And amazing it is.
NASCAR officials announced last month that the Next Gen cars will utilize a 4-inch rear spoiler to boost downforce and that engines with 670 horsepower will serve as the baseline for the 2022 Cup Series schedule.
The decision was reached after a meeting with competition officials, drivers, and representatives from teams and manufacturers at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Next Gen car also had its final tests.
Four engine configurations and aerodynamics configurations were tried last December 17, 2021, on Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval layout by competition officials. According to the officials, the fourth and final package received huge support from the majority of those who attended the testing.
Will NASCAR go electric?
In NASCAR standards, the Next Gen is revolutionary. Much like the major overhaul Formula One did for the 2022 season, NASCAR took a step further from the traditional NASCAR design.
Featuring an independent rear suspension, 18-inch wheels with low-profile tires and a single-lug assembly, this vehicle is designed for maximum performance.
Also, rather than the traditional H-pattern shifter, the car has an Xtrac six-speed sequential shifter.
And guess what? To make things more exciting, the body is completely symmetrical.
These aren’t the only notable things about the new NASCAR Next Gen car. The sound will be different and that’s all thanks to a split exhaust replacing the crossover pipe.
The design of the Next Gen aims to achieve two things—manufacturer relevance and cost containment through single-source parts suppliers. It’s clear that the former is the primary driver since OEMs are the lifeblood of any racing platform, and NASCAR intends to attract more of them.
So how can they effectively do that?
Like any other racing sanctioning body, NASCAR will need to change lanes—shift to hybrid, battery-assisted engines. If ever, it will be the biggest overhaul NASCAR will take for 73 years.
“I would be surprised if a new OEM came in without some type of electrification,” Steve Phelps said. “I’m not talking about all-electric. I’m talking about a hybrid system. I think it’s something, obviously something that we’re exploring now with our existing three OEMs. The question is, what is it? What’s the timing of it?”
Timing is not the only problem here.
We all know NASCAR’s fanbase is the most passionate when it comes to nostalgia and aesthetics. They will do everything to protect the roots of the sport. Thus, Steve Phelps has the most challenging role to play. He will need to strike a balance between relevancy and legacy.
But these things aside, is NASCAR really ready to go electric?
“The current Gen-6 car, it would be a complete overhaul to go to a hybrid system,” according to Richard Johns, Ford Performance’s program engineer. “With this, it’s not a complete overhaul. It’s adding a few bits and pieces of electronics, and you’re ready to go on the race track.”
Well, the same thing can be said about a fully-electric NASCAR car.
There are three parts of the Next Gen car: front, middle, and back. A hybrid would require changing one of those parts. An electric would require changing two.
“With this module of the car — with the centre section and then the bolt-on front clip and bolt-on rear clip — you have a lot of architectural flexibility there,” according to Ford Performance’s global director, Mark Rushbrook, “The first step with a hybrid will be relatively easy in the sense that the combustion engine stays the same, the driveline stays the same; well, the transaxle in the rear, you can put on electric motor to drive back there and a modest battery — and boom, you’ve got a hybrid… For a full electric, there will be more changes required, but with the bolt-on front clip and rear clip, you can then have a unique front clip for an electric motor version.”
And in the event that the switch does happen, there’s also the actual racing aspect on the competition side to think about. How do we keep fast speeds? What happens to aerodynamics?
“We have a driving simulator to run things; if we need to, we could put everything together there,” said Tommy Joseph, Ford Performance’s aerodynamics supervisor. “Here’s the effect of the hybrid-powered unit, here’s how much faster or slower it goes, this is the drag change we need to go with that — we can work through all that virtually.”
These things remain as what-ifs and maybes. The new NASCAR cars will remain non-hybrid and non-electrical and make the long-awaited debut during the season-opening in February this year.
Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet remain the only manufacturers for the race.
You may be delighted to know that you can still enjoy the same thrill and fun of traditional NASCAR racing but with the way things are going, we’re pretty sure going fully electric is NASCAR’s to-do list for the years to come. By doing so, NASCAR will gain additional appeal to potential partners with intentions to promote their own technology.
“I don’t know that the car itself — if we kept running the internal combustion engine that we have today — will necessarily bring other manufacturers,” Mark Rushbrook said. “But if we go hybrid and/or full electric, I think that will bring more manufacturers.”
Are you in favour of NASCAR adapting fully electric tech? Let us know in the comments!