NASCAR Cup Series
More work, next steps for NASCAR on short-track package
NASCAR Cup Series

More work, next steps for NASCAR on short-track package

Updated Apr. 10, 2024 1:37 p.m. ET

With four races so far this year using the new aerodynamic package for short tracks and road courses, NASCAR has seen enough to know one thing when it comes to the aerodynamic tweaks it has made for those styles of tracks.

"The bottom line is it doesn’t move the needle and the drivers will tell you that," NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer said Tuesday on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel.

"So there is no need for us to put a lot of energy towards that type of testing."

Is it frustrating to hear that? For sure. When NASCAR tested its new "simplified" diffuser last year in the days following the race at Richmond, there were high hopes that it could change the dynamic of short-track racing. The idea was that the car could potentially improve aerodynamically in traffic, allowing for drivers with a stronger car to make a pass.


It didn’t happen at the test — that’s why there is testing, to see if theory and reality match — and even after another test at Phoenix in the offseason, the changes didn’t produce significantly different results in the racing dynamic at Phoenix, Circuit of the Americas, Richmond and Martinsville.

New cars (the Next Gen was introduced in 2022) are susceptible to growing pains, and despite the science and simulation, surprises can happen in race conditions. Certainly, there is second-guessing going on in the garage, but at least NASCAR understands that going down the path of more changes to the underbody of the car and the rear spoiler appears to be futile.

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So where does NASCAR go from here? What does it do for the rest of the season? It can’t just sit still, and Sawyer indicated that the sanctioning body is exploring options.

A significant increase in horsepower remains off of NASCAR’s table — that debate we chronicled last month — so the other main option is tires.

NASCAR wants a tire that wears not as aggressively as what occurred at Bristol earlier this year but close to it. While there has been nothing definitive on why the tires unexpectedly wore out so quickly at Bristol, it seems that track temperature is the leading theory.

That isn’t great news for Goodyear, which brings 1,500 to 2,000 tires for a short-track weekend. Could there be different tire compounds depending on the track temperature? That would create significant labor and manufacturing costs, be a logistical challenge and be difficult for teams trying to come with setups based on simulation (teams use data for that specific tire to help create setups).

So Goodyear has to develop a tire they hope wears within a reasonable range of temperatures.

Goodyear would need at least a month, if not more, to manufacture enough tires for a race weekend that has a new tire compound that hasn’t been used before.

NASCAR has two short-track tire tests scheduled over the next few months, starting in late May at Iowa Speedway, which will confirm the tire selection for that race on the 0.825-mile track. That test will have to be done with tire codes that Goodyear already has constructed for Iowa because the time frame (a couple weeks) doesn’t give it the ability for a wholesale change.

There also will be a test in mid-July at Bristol, which was originally slated for Atlanta.

Those tests likely wouldn’t be early enough for any changes for the New Hampshire race in June (and Richmond in August might be a challenge) but would be possible for changes for playoff races at Watkins Glen, Bristol, Charlotte road course, Martinsville and Phoenix.

If NASCAR doesn’t find a tire that wears better, what’s next?

NASCAR’s main goal with the Next Gen car was to have the same car able to run at Las Vegas and Bristol and Daytona. But it might have to do something more drastic if an answer when it comes to tires isn’t figured out soon.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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