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The Evolving Technical Nature of the NASCAR Cup Series

Regardless if it’s the NASCAR Truck, Xfinity, or Cup Series that you are making NASCAR picks on, technology and technological advancements play a major role in who takes the pole position or emerges from a race victorious. Motorsports categories are differentiated by technical regulations, giving each category a distinct technical blueprint to work from. The various ways motorsports teams interpret these regulations and utilize the technology available make the difference in tenths and hundredths of a second per lap in performance and prize money at the end of the season.

Let’s dive into the always fascinating world of technology in motorsports, with a special focus on the NASCAR Cup Series. 

2022’s Next Gen Car and Garage 56

After COVID-19-related delays, the NASCAR Cup Series debuted the Next Gen car (Gen. 7) on track in 2022. In honor of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, Hendrick Motorsports is modifying a Next Gen chassis to run in the legendary 24-Hours of Le Mans: considered one of the crown jewels of motorsports. Garage 56 at Le Mans is reserved for special entries into the most famous endurance race in the world, and it is widely expected that NASCAR will be occupying that garage.

While NASCAR has yet to receive the “official” invitation from Le Mans, which runs from June 11-12th, the project has been moving ahead. Modifications have been made to the spec Next Gen chassis for the endurance race, which could filter down to the NASCAR Cup Series.

Hendrick Motorsports is partnering with Chevrolet, IMSA, Goodyear, and NASCAR on project 56’s entry into Le Mans. While seven-time NASCAR Cup Champion Jimmy Johnson gave the project 56 car a recent shakedown, 2010 Le Mans winner and sportscar driver Mike Rockenfeller gave the car its first test. Rockenfeller is expected to be one of the three drivers, alongside two former NASCAR Cup Series drivers, Jeff Gordon and Johnson, to make up the driver lineup if Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick gets his wish. 

However, with Johnson returning to the NASCAR grid as an owner/driver with Petty GMS Motorsports, his participation at Le Mans is questionable. What’s not questionable is how valuable project 56 is to the next phase of technical developments on the Next Gen chassis.

The Technical Changes in the Next Gen NASCAR

The newly designed NASCAR featured new aerodynamic packages, including the series debut of the rear diffuser and adjustable aerodynamic components to make the cars more circuit-specific. NASCAR used new 18″ tires with a single center-locking lug nut – much like Formula 1 – instead of the long-used 15″, 5-lug nut combination and moved to independent rear suspension with adjustable dampers from a solid rear axel configuration. 

More changes were made to make things safer and more cost-effective, including the mandate of more single-source parts and a new spec chassis. According to NASCAR’s governing body, teams who haven’t adhered to these rules and standards in the first year of the Next Gen car have received punishments that fit their transgressions.

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Technical and Rules Changes for 2023

However, like the first season under any new rules set, issues that need to be addressed emerged. Whenever a motorsports category switches tire manufacturers, compounds, or sizes, there are inevitable issues as the teams and tire suppliers work to figure out how to maximize the tire’s performance while maintaining driver safety. NASCAR is no exception and suffered the first-year pains of a new technical direction for the cars and tires.

The Next Gen chassis came under immense scrutiny for safety during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series. This has led to NASCAR making the requisite changes to the technical regulations making the rear of the chassis safer during rear impacts. NASCAR’s governing body is paying the bill to facilitate these changes and ease the financial burden on the NASCAR teams. 

While there are many proposed changes to NASCAR in 2023 and beyond, there is little confirmed to change for 2023 as of publication.

Technological Advancements and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD Testing)

In the history of motorsports, safety advancements are the most important technological advancements made year after year, while cost and environmental concerns have become an increasing concern. The safer, more accessible, cost and environmentally efficient we can make motorsports, the better for the present and future. 

Technological advancements in motorsports and NASCAR include ensuring circuits are capable and handling the NASCAR or FIA network’s demand for terabytes of data production and communication needs required for every session. 

Almost all of the technological advancements in NASCAR are hidden from the view of television cameras and spectators. Some of the technology trickles down from manufacturer motorsports cars to road cars. However, one specific form of technology has changed motorsports since its introduction and has had a significant impact across the wider automotive world: CFD testing.

Among the most significant technologies developed and used in motorsports is Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) testing. CFD uses mathematical equations to solve complex problems related to fluid flow or interactions between fluids in solids or gasses. CFD’s primary use in motorsports is in aerodynamic testing. 

Aerodynamic testing can be the difference between tenths of a second on track and significant sums of money in prize money and testing budget. CFD testing allows motorsports teams to do more design and testing on various components and aerodynamic developments without the over-reliance on expensive wind-tunnel time. 

CFD has revolutionized motorsports since its introduction. Not only can engineers now “see” the airflow around the cars and gather incredibly valuable data, but they can also do it without breaking the bank. CFD has been implemented to develop race cars and technical regulations, including the major technical changes to NASCAR and Formula 1 in 2022.