NASCAR hopes to improve short track package with test at Richmond

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JULY 17: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Kubota Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Crayon 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2023 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Short track racing in the Next Gen car has not lived up to NASCAR’s expectations. 

At tracks where the previous-generation of car shined, racing has become spread out and single-file, with dominant cars able to get huge leads, only interrupted by pit strategy.

That’s the case because it’s so difficult to pass on short tracks when the speed differential is so low, Denny Hamlin explained.

“These cars are running the same times and everyone’s falling off at the same pace,” he noted. 

It’s racing with its own merits, and a style preferred by drivers like Hamlin, but even he acknowledges that it’s not all that entertaining for fans to have a runaway leader.

“As a purist, I loved it, because I controlled so much of my destiny because of the things I was doing as a driver,” he said. “But a fan doesn’t really care about that, they just care about side-by-side racing.”

NASCAR hopes that it’s found a fix to please those fans. A new short track package is being tested at Richmond on Monday and Tuesday. 

The big change is a new front splitter design, referred to as a ‘lift splitter.’ It’s designed to create lift for cars in clean air while getting pushed by dirty air to generate downforce for trailing cars. 

Dr. Eric Jacuzzi, NASCAR Vice President of Vehicle Performance, has led the charge to create the splitter. He’ll be observing it take to the track in Richmond. 

Jacuzzi and his team have already tested the splitter in the wind tunnel, where they saw up to an extra 100 pounds of downforce for a trailing car with the new splitter – a significant difference. Richmond Raceway is a real-world test track to corroborate those findings. 

The test features one powerhouse team for each of NASCAR’s three manufacturers: Christopher Bell for Joe Gibbs Racing, William Byron for Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan Preece for Stewart-Haas Racing. 

In addition, representing some smaller teams are Harrison Burton for Wood Brothers Racing, Justin Haley for Kaulig Racing, and Noah Gragson for Legacy Motor Club.

Also present for the test are officials from Goodyear, who will be monitoring a softer compound tire that should increase tire wear and inject variability through long runs. NASCAR has already run softer tire compounds at New Hampshire this year. 

The results from the test will be analyzed by NASCAR before any action can be taken. 

If any changes are made, they will likely feature on the 2024 short track package. Not only do the results need to be looked at carefully, but Dr. Jacuzzi pointed out that the supplier doesn’t have enough parts. Plus, he said, NASCAR is reluctant to make changes to its package during the Playoffs. 

If it’s successful, expect the test to come into play for next year. If not, NASCAR will have to look in another direction to improve the short track product.

Owen Johnson