Sprint Cup Series drivers test the Gen-6 last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images
NASCAR took what it hopes will be a significant step toward improving on-track competition on Tuesday, releasing a new set of aerodynamic regulations for its flagship Sprint Car Series cars in 2014.
The new aero changes, announced six days after a 30-car test at Charlotte Motor Speedway, are specifically designed to improve competition and passing at the 1.5-mile tracks that make up one-third of the Sprint Cup schedule.
The changes are as follows:
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• Statically setting the race car ride height and eliminating the pre- and post-race front height rules and inspections;
• Adding a square leading edge on the splitter at the front of the car;
• Increasing the height of the rear spoiler from seven and a quarter inches to eight inches. The lower portion of the spoiler will be a composite material, while the top two inches will be made of transparent Lexan for better visibility; and
• Increasing the size of the radiator pan under the front of the car from 38 inches by 13 inches to a 43-by-13.
The rules package for the two restrictor-plate tracks, Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, remains unchanged.
Basically, NASCAR wants to make it easier at 1.5-mile tracks for cars to pass each other and reduce the aerodynamic advantage the leading car has over the car behind it.
Gene Stefanyshyn (left), vice president of innovation and racing development, looks on as NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton speaks during the recent test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
At the end of the day, putting on a better show for the fans was the motivation for the new package and why Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota worked so closely with NASCAR in what insiders described as an unprecedented display of cooperation.
"We all share the same goal, said Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s vice president, innovation and racing development. "We may have differences of opinion how to get there. … This is really the first installment in a journey towards a continual improvement process in regards to our race product."
"The reality is, racing is not only a sport, it’s entertainment," said Alba Colon, NASCAR Sprint Cup program manager for Team Chevrolet. "And we need to be realistic about that. The race fans want to be entertained, they want more passing, more unpredictable settings about what’s going to happen at the end of the race."
The reality is, racing is not only a sport, it’s entertainment. And we need to be realistic about that. The race fans want to be entertained, they want more passing, more unpredictable settings about what’s going to happen at the end of the race.
-- Alba Colon, NASCAR Sprint Cup program manager for Team Chevrolet
Collectively, the new NASCAR aero changes will increase front and rear downforce on the cars and with it the cornering speeds, but Stefanyshyn said the sanctioning body will decrease the maximum engine RPMs 4 percent to 6 percent to keep speeds from increasing too much.
Of more interest than the technical regulations and the aerodynamic nuances is the fact that every time NASCAR makes a significant change, one or two teams will gain an early advantage with the new regulations. It happened in 2007 with the introduction of the old "Car of Tomorrow" and happened again this past season with the Generation-6 car roll out.
"Any time you make a change, there are always people that are more prepared, more eager, and some people will get an advantage," said Stefanyshyn. "Somebody might leap ahead. … So we understand this is a part of the natural process of developing."
Not surprisingly, rival teams figure it will work to their advantage. In last week’s test, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team looked strong, as did Stewart-Haas Racing. But it’s way too early to tell who, if anyone, really is ahead of the game based on testing.
"For me personally, I do like the changes, because I feel like that gives us an advantage," said Chad Knaus, the six-time champion crew chief for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. "One, Jimmie’s ability to adapt, the way the team can move on and adapt quickly, and our resources. I think that’s something that when NASCAR makes a rules change, that falls right into our wheelhouse."
"I’m looking at this as an opportunity to get on a level playing field," said Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle, who finished a disappointing ninth in 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup points. "It’s been well-documented that at Roush Fenway we were probably a little behind this year. … I’m hoping this rules packages gives us a reset, so to speak, and maybe we get to the punch a little quicker than the competition."
The physical changes of the car are comparatively minor, but they require significant development to optimize.
"I don’t know if you throw out all your old notes in terms of setups, but it definitely puts you back to square one to some degree," said FOX analyst and former crew chief Larry McReynolds. "It’s going to be a completely different spring package, the ride-height changes. And the aero changes alone are taking a lot of the pages back out of the notebook that was built last year."
"The rework to the cars is pretty minimal in terms of splitter and spoiler changes," said Doug Duchardt, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports. "It’s all pretty straight forward. There’s a lot of engineering work that occurs behind that. When you change the aerodynamic package, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the development of the cars and preparing for the simulations, things like that."