On December 5th-6th, NASCAR will conduct yet another short-track package test to improve the racing product on short-tracks. Steve O’Donnell hinted during the “State of the Sport” press conference that they would be looking at shifting and the underbody and Corey LaJoie confirmed this on his podcast. NASCAR will test a new transaxle to eliminate shifting and underbody changes, and LaJoie will be one of the drivers at the test. What exactly is NASCAR testing, and will it work?
The stated goal of the new transaxle is to try to eliminate shifting on short tracks. Aside from horsepower, this is likely the biggest thing that drivers have requested to be changed at short tracks. With the new five-speed sequential shifter introduced, shifting has become commonplace at short tracks, and it has changed how cars drive.
What shifting does is give drivers a safety valve if they make mistakes. If they miss their mark, they can downshift and make up for it with increased acceleration off the corner. It increases their grip in the corners, which makes it more difficult for the driver behind to pounce on a mistake or pass. Typically, the worse driving a car is, the easier it becomes to pass because the driver behind can take advantage of mistakes.
Denny Hamlin has been a major proponent of this, so, it shows that NASCAR is listening to the drivers. However, the short track test will prove whether or not this new transaxle can have the intended effect.
The underbody is something that NASCAR looked at back at Richmond in the summer. NASCAR went so far as to take the rear diffuser completely off of the car, and the results were pretty good for the most part.
The underbody has become more heavily scrutinized as time has gone on because of how much downforce is created by the underbody and the rear diffuser. However, NASCAR’s vice president of vehicle performance, Eric Jacuzzi, told RACER following the Richmond test that removing the rear diffuser produced a “Positive outcome”.
“It was a pretty good, pretty positive outcome. We got some positive comments that the diffuser not being there made the car a little more forgiving on corner entry. It felt like they could slide around a little more and move around. We were pretty happy with that, for sure.”Eric Jacuzzi in RACER Magazine
Again, this is more of an aerodynamic change, which, multiple aero changes have been tested by NASCAR. Aerodynamic changes were tested at Phoenix before the 2023 season, and the results were not great as the short-track product did not improve much. Now, it did get better as the season went on, but, it does call into question how much NASCAR can change with aerodynamics.
Why Nothing With Horsepower?
The most popular solution to fixing the short-track package is increasing horsepower. Why is NASCAR not going there yet? Well, Steve O’Donnell explained during the “State of the Sport” address.
I think everything is up for consideration. We’ve proven that. You have to factor in what are the costs involved as well, right? It’s not as simple as just upping the horsepower. You better be ready for all your OEs to be onboard. It better make sense for any potential new OEM and technology. It’s not just a short-term answer.Steve O’Donnell
Again, he brings up costs and OEMs, which has been the standard response when talking about not increasing horsepower. It’s the same story as it always has been, and it seems NASCAR is dead set on trying everything they can before going with the option to increase horsepower. How much longer can NASCAR go before they increase horsepower?
Given how much would have to go into making such a drastic change on short tracks, it’s tough to see this happening in 2024. Maybe it can be implemented in the years following if these issues continue to persist. It all depends on how long NASCAR is willing to wait, but it seems that they are not at the point where they are ready to increase horsepower yet.
Will it Work?
Making the move to eliminate or, at the very least decrease, shifting shows NASCAR is listening to the drivers. Testing changes to the underbody also shows they have listened to what drivers had to say at Richmond, and the new tire used at Martinsville had some encouraging results as well.
However, the big thing people keep bringing up is increasing horsepower. NASCAR has not gone there yet, but, if these changes do not work the way they hope they will, will that finally push them to make the change? We will have to see, and we will not totally know until the first short track race of 2024.