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What NASCAR Needs to Try at the Phoenix Short Track Package Test

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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On Tuesday, Matt Weaver dropped a note that NASCAR is going to continue working on the short track package at Phoenix Raceway in December. The short track package has been the biggest bugaboo for the Next-Gen car ever since it was introduced in 2022. What does NASCAR need to try at that test, and, why should we have some optimism about this test?

Take Off the Diffuser/Underwing

One change that NASCAR can make with the Next-Gen car is to try to get rid of the underwing/rear diffuser, which creates both significantly less downforce and less dirt air. Joey Logano even suggested taking the diffuser off on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. He theorized that the result of the move would mean more spread-out fields in terms of speed.

That may sound like a bad thing, but, a more spread out field in terms of speed means cars can pass each other more easily. That combined with less of a dirty wake behind the car means that cars can pass each other based on raw speed, plus it allows the cars to follow better in the corners. NASCAR tried to during the Richmond test, and the results seemed good, so why not try it again?

Add More Horsepower

This is very unlikely, but almost everyone who watches NASCAR is begging for more horsepower on short tracks. The current lack of horsepower decreases the top speed at the end of a straightaway, which means the cars do not have to brake as much heading into a corner. This is part of why the road course product has struggled because the drivers have less room to out-brake someone into a corner.

This is very unlikely to happen because of the time it would take to make such a change and the cost associated with it. For now, this is going to be a pipedream, but maybe, just maybe, NASCAR gets to a point where they truly have nothing else they can try.

Get Rid of Shifting

This is something where it is hard to really know how much impact this really has on the racing product on short tracks, but, it’s at least worth trying. First off, it is distracting for a driver to shift each time he enters a corner for as many as 400 or 500 laps during a race. However, drivers have sifted at road courses for years, and the Gen-6 car had a great road course race package.

Kevin Harvick spoke to Frontstretch about it, and he compared looking at that to “Throwing darts”. Again, maybe it can help, so it is worth looking at. However, the car itself also makes it tough to police because the five-speed transmission already is what it is, and it’s tough to ask teams to unlearn what they have learned.

Better Tire Falloff

One of Denny Hamlin’s favorite phrases when discussing the Next-Gen car is “lap time variability”. As it currently stands, many times the Next-Gen car has tire falloff, but the falloff is the exact same for every driver. Just putting a tire out there that falls off more may not be enough, they need to find a way to put it in the “driver’s hands”.

Maybe there is a way to either engineer the cars or the tires where the tires fall off based on how the driver drives the car instead of just falling off based on the car normally falling off. Maybe that means the cars need to be more spread out in terms of lap time as Joey Logano referred to, but, still, this could help.

The Reason for Optimism: Why Phoenix is a Good Track to Try This at.

Christopher Bell said to the media following the short track package test at Richmond that the test would have been better served to be at a “high grip track”. Phoenix is the definition of a high-grip race track. It’s not like Richmond where the surface is very old with massive amounts of tire wear. Phoenix’s surface is over 10 years old, but, being in the desert, asphalt lasts longer there, so, it’s still relatively fresh compared to others.

The higher grip race tracks are where the Next-Gen car has struggled the most. Places like Martinsville come to mind as one, but Phoenix fits that description as well. Phoenix is also the Championship venue, so, getting the package right there is very important for 2024. Phoenix fits the description of the type of track that NASCAR is trying to fix better than Richmond, and that gives people some optimism.

Then again, NASCAR tried to test at Phoenix before this season, and it did not work like many hoped. Maybe this will be different.

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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