Perhaps the most visible hallmark of the first half of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has been the quality of racing at 1.5-mile intermediate speedways, an assertion bore out by statistics and emphasized by NASCAR president Steve Phelps during a meeting with reporters at the sanctioning body’s headquarters on Friday.
“I think we’ve had an extraordinary year,” Phelps said. “I think the racing product has been exceptional. The good news is that it’s not just me. It’s the interaction we have with our fans, listening to our fans, whether you’re talking about our fan council, radio shows that I listen to frequently—by and large the fans are incredibly excited by what they’re seeing.
“I would suggest that the data—green-flag passes, green-flag passes for the lead—are up significantly year-over-year. That’s exactly what we were hoping was going to happen.”
NASCAR’s loop data metrics have tracked an increase in passing, including a 57% increase in green flag passes for the lead when compared to last season.
For the 2019 season, NASCAR made significant changes to the aerodynamic and horsepower configurations of the current Cup race car, adding downforce and drag and reducing power to 550 hp at the larger speedways. The new engine architecture, which incorporates tapered spacers at all tracks, not only was designed to improve the on-track product but also to make the sport more attractive to potential new OEMs.
According to Phelps, NASCAR is on schedule to roll-out its new Generation-7 Cup car for 2021, again with an eye toward enhanced competition as well as manageable costs.
“The majority of the garage is on board with the 2021 start,” Phelps said. “Are there some that ’22 might work better for? There might be. We have to figure out how we get full alignment on what that’s going to be, and that’s what we’re working on…
“In my opinion, the importance of this car can’t be overstated. It will allow teams to be profitable. That’s what it comes down to. I think it’s as simple as that. The great news is that the fan will be the beneficiary as well, because I think the car will have better body styling that the fans I think will really enjoy.
“If we’re going to do this thing the right way—which we are—the racing, which is already fantastic, should get even better. So I think the entire industry wins.”
Concurrent with the expected introduction of the 2021 race car will be a Cup schedule that continues to evolve. Already announced, the 2020 schedule features significant changes from the 2019 slate of races, with date changes for the second Daytona event and for Indianapolis, for example, and both Pocono races taking place on the same weekend.
Phelps said, however, that he doesn’t expect the number of races on the 36-event schedule to be reduced for 2021, but a different mix of race tracks for the Cup series is under discussion, given a consistent fondness for short tracks and a growing appreciation for road courses among the fan base.
“How deep those schedule changes go, I’m unsure at this point,” Phelps said. “We are working with all the stakeholders, and I’m confident that we’re going to come to a schedule that our fans are going to like…
“There are lots of models that are being developed. Asking NBC what their ideal schedule is, we’ve done that. Asking FOX what their ideal schedule is, we’ve done that. Asking the OEMs where they want to be, asking the teams where they want to be, it all goes into a large data bank, and then we’re starting to craft what these models would look like that we think would be in the best interest of where fans want to race and have full grandstands.”