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How do we Fix the Next-Gen Car on Road Courses?

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Joshua Lipowski

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Yesterday’s Watkins Glen race was not as well-received by fans as previous Watkins Glen Races. As of writing this, Jeff Gluck’s “Was it a good race” poll had 62% of fans saying they disliked the race, which is just 1% less than the lowest-rated race of the season, Martinsville, which had 63% say they disliked the race. If the race was that bad, then what does NASCAR need to do to fix road course racing, if anything at all?

How Bad is the State of Road Course Racing in NASCAR?

Road course races in NASCAR this year have been very hit-or-miss. When the races have been good, they’ve been really good, but when they have not, they really have not been good. The metrics shown are based on the “Was it a good race” poll by Jeff Gluck.

The first road course race of the year, COTA (72.5% Good), was very well-received by the fanbase minus the wreckfest ending. Sonoma (43.2% Bad), on the other hand, was not, but the Chicago Street Race was received incredibly well (84.5% Good). The Indianapolis Road Course (72.6% Good) race was received well as well before Watkins Glen was obviously not received well.

So, to say that the state of road course racing in NASCAR is completely terrible, irredeemable, or whatever doom and gloom adjective you can think of, would be over-zealous. To say it’s a perfect product would also be an exaggeration.

So, NASCAR does not need to completely reinvent the wheel with road course racing. However, there is room for improvement. Dalton Hopkins pointed out the lack of passing at the front of the field as evidence of a not-ideal road course product.

It’s obviously only a one-race sample size. but it is alarming. It’s also consistent with some of the complaints that many have with racing at short tracks like Martinsville.

It is also worth noting the outside factors that made other road course races seem exciting. The Chicago Street Race had changing conditions and a distance change forcing fast drivers into the middle of the pack. The Indianapolis race had major Playoff implications.

The core road course racing with the Next-Gen car when nothing else is there to “spice up the show”, is not ideal as evidenced by Sonoma and Watkins Glen. The bottom line is that work needs to be done to make the core road course racing with the Next-Gen car better, but what can be done?

The Problems and Potential Solutions

The biggest thing to note here is that all of the changes being proposed have to do with the car. Nothing will be proposed in terms of adding stage breaks back or changing the Playoff format, or whatever because that is not the core problem. The issue with the car is the core problem.

Problem 1: The Braking Zones are too short

Many drivers complain that the braking zone is way too short with the Next-Gen car, and that makes it more difficult to pass. This is a problem at road courses, and it is also a problem at short tracks like Martinsville. As a result, it is much harder to outbrake opposing cars heading into a corner, and cars end up stuck in single-file trains similar to DRS trains in F1.

Solutions: Increase Horsepower and Decrease Brake Size

One solution is increasing horsepower can counteract this because it increases the top speed at the end of the straightaway. The faster you go into a corner, the more a car needs to slow down, which increases its’ braking zone.

Another solution is to make the brakes either smaller or less efficient. If the brakes do not have the same stopping power as before, then drivers must brake sooner into corners, which increases the braking zone. This allows for the dive bomb moves into turn one which has become synonymous with Watkins Glen.

Problem 2: The Cars Lap Times are Too Equal

One of the fundamental aspects of the Next-Gen car is that it is essentially a spec car, and that means that the cars run very similar lap times. This makes the competition closer, but it can also make passing far more difficult. The other issue is that the tires just do not wear as much as they used to, and that keeps the cars very close together.

Solution: Increase Tire Wear

Goodyear is working on this, and they still have not totally perfected it. Increasing tire wear allows for more complex strategies to be implemented during a race. Are you willing to pit early to gain track time to sacrifice it later in a run, or do you run longer to use the advantage later in the race?

If tire wear is not there, then that does not exist, and it also takes away some driver skills. Drivers no longer have to manage their tires the same way that they used to. Richmond Raceway in 2022 and a couple of weeks ago are great examples of races where tire wear played a big factor in how the race played out.

Problem 3: Dirty Air

Dirty air is and always will be a problem with modern racing. Since the discovery of aerodynamics, the way that cars go fast is less about mechanical grip and more about cutting through the air. The Next-Gen car has some significant aero-dependant pieces that make dirty air far worse than ever.

Solution: Strip Down Aero-Dependant Parts

Do the Next-Gen cars really need pieces like the rear diffuser on a road course? Sure, it helps on places like 1.5-mile tracks, but it hurts the product elsewhere. Other things like changing the splitter can help as well, even if they do not solve the problem.

NASCAR has tried to fix the problem with solely aerodynamic changes to mixed results. However, to say that they cannot still be improved would be short-sighted. These can be complementary changes to other solutions that have been proposed.

NASCAR needs to make some changes on road courses. They may not need to develop an entirely new race car for it, but they do need to make some tweaks to the car to make it the best it can be.

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

All Posts