Like It Or Not, NASCAR Is About To Power Down
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas – NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. says a reduction in Sprint Cup Series engine horsepower is coming “whether you like it or not,” but hardly a sign of a stock car Apocalypse.
“I choose as an individual to get on the side of being productive in that discussion instead of saying we don’t need to do it and trying to fight it,” Junior said during a news conference at Texas Motor Speedway prior to last weekend’s Duck Commander 500. “Let’s try to make sure when it does happen we do it the right way and give ourselves something to grow into and something to engineer and something that’s productive for many years to come.
“It’s coming either way, whether we like it or not. You can have both sides arguing against and for, for however long you want. But it’s going to happen, so we might as well start thinking about how we want it to happen and trying to have those discussions on making sure we make the best choice we can make for the sport.”
The HP reduction issue was revived late last month by Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition and racing development, during an interview on FOXSports.com at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Pemberton acknowledged that changes designed to extend the life of Cup engines via a reduction in horsepower are among options being considered for the 2015 season. Such a new rules package likely would include aerodynamic and tire changes in NASCAR’s premier series, despite the fact the second season of the Gen-6 car platform has produced seven different winners in as many races.
Pemberton reportedly has met four times with manufacturer representatives from Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota and some racing teams about options for 2015. The HP issue also was addressed during a recent national teleconference featuring Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports for General Motors; Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing and David Wilson, president and general manager of Toyota Racing Development USA.
NASCAR’s Cup cars are powered by cast iron 358 cubic-inch V8s with aluminum cylinder heads that crank out an estimated 850 HP at 9,000 RPM, good for 200-plus MPH. Pemberton did not put a specific number on the HP reduction the sanctioning body is considering, but several reports have pegged it as from 75 to 100 horses.
“I don’t think they’re (NASCAR) trying to make it more competitive,” said Junior, winner of the season-opening Daytona 500. “No matter how the horsepower is I think we’ll have competitive racing. I think the racing is competitive any way you slice it. I can enjoy a race where a guy laps the field just as much as I can enjoy one where they’re side-by-side across the finish line. There’s something to be appreciated about both ways of winning and how a race plays-out.”
NASCAR officials opted against mandating a tapered spacer to limit air flow into Cup engines when technical regulations for 2014 were announced in December. NASCAR Vice President Gene Stefanyshyn said after a test on the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway in December that the tapered spacer utilized in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series would be considered in Cup for 2015.
Rather than limit HP, Junior said he would welcome a reduction in engine size. “I like the idea of going to a smaller motor and allowing us to engineer through that package instead of choking down what we currently have with a plate,” said Junior, driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS fielded by Hendrick Motorsports. “I think choking the motor down with a plate is the easiest way to go _ and the laziest way to go.
“When you can go to a smaller engine you preserve some throttle response. You preserve some reaction in the gas pedal and give the driver a few more tools to be able to use out on the racetrack when he’s driving his race car. When you take and put a plate on those cars you take tons of throttle response out of the car and setting up a pass, particularly on a track that’s worn out like this is a little more challenging with a plate rather than an open engine that’s smaller.”
GM’s Campbell and Toyota’s Wilson reiterated that any decision on engines for 2015 would remain collaborative with NASCAR, as has been the case throughout development of the current Gen-6 package. “Depending on where that ends up, it will impact how much work happens at the manufacturer versus the teams,” Campbell said. “The key is we keep the racing exciting and then we make every resource we apply to the engines and the engine builds go as far as possible. That’s really the key.”
Wilson termed that process “correct” and “healthy” for all the stakeholders. “We’re still talking along with NASCAR,” Wilson said. “We’re talking between ourselves about the various options and it’s still in the consideration phase. I really don’t think we have much to say beyond that. “
Joey Logano, winner of Monday’s rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval, admitted he wasn’t particularly enthused by the idea of reducing the ponies at his disposal.
“I’m all for more power. I think that’s like any guy, right?” said Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil/Hertz Ford Fusion fielded by Penske Racing. “They just want more power, so anytime you hear someone talk about taking away power you’re not excited about it. I think something that’s cool about Sprint Cup racing is we’ve got 850-900 horsepower in these things. That’s pretty bad-ass, so I obviously want to make sure we have that.
“But either way, we’ve just got to make sure we put on a great race for the fans, whether we have three horsepower or 900 horsepower – make sure it’s a great race. If that’s the direction we have to go to put on a better race, then so be it. At the same time, I’m not sure if that will be the answer or not, but we have to look at every option we have and figure out what we’ve got to do to make it the best.”
In his position as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, Junior knows his opinion will draw considerable attention from the sanctioning body.
“I hope they’ll go the way I want to go,” Junior said with a laugh. “Whatever way they end up going, whatever decision they end up making, there’s not a wrong decision – there’s an OK one and a better one, in my opinion. They’re going to do it. It’s kind of like the (number) 3 coming back. A lot of people didn’t want it to come back. A lot of people were upset that it came back, but it’s coming back. I think the reduction in power is coming, whether you like it or not.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments