NASCAR wants new engine format…can we send them ours?

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NASCAR Start

NASCAR seems to be taking a few things from Formula 1 this season such as knock-out qualifying format and a revised Chase scenario where the points are jumbled up and it becomes a winner-take-all ending which is akin to doubling the points for the final race.

All of this is to “spice up the show” and keep the thrill going to the last race. It’s the case of tournamentizing the series like kids baseball these days. When I was young, we played all summer and the two best teams at the end would play for all the money, marbles and chalk. Not now, it’s a high-pressure tournament every weekend with traveling and hotels and frustrated parents. It seems NASCAR may be turning into a frustrated parent as well because they are now adding another F1-style change to their agenda.

It was announced this week that NASCAR is going to change their engine format soon. Possibly not for 2015 but soon, says NASCAR boss Brian France:

“We’re going to make that happen, and that’s part of the overall rules packages that we design that hopefully control costs, hopefully make the racing better,” France said. “The engine is an integral part of that. We also have to be in step as much as possible with the car manufacturers and where they’re going with technology and different things. It all has to come together, and that’s the next significant part of the rules package. … The engine will get a significant change. I’m not going to say (for) ’15, but we are certainly sizing that up. It’s very important for us to get that right.”

Well they have to keep in step with car manufacturers and where the future is going—where have I heard that before? So where are the carmakers going? Easy to see where that’s going at the moment with one look at the top selling cars in America for last month:

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I’m thinking some of those Ford F-150’s and other trucks have V8’s in them so perhaps NASCAR will stick with a V8 but move to fuel injection similar to what the carmakers use? Or will the series really see the light and move to a V6 turbo hybrid system with big batteries and KERS? Ok, maybe it won’t have KERS but I could see some serious thought placed behind the V6 turbo with direct injection, lower revs and lower horsepower.

The top selling cars in America are trucks. The engine that Ford brought to the USC for Ganassi Racing was their new Ecoboost. One could assume they will do something similar with NASCAR but maybe not.

It seems there is little room for error here given the slide in NASCAR viewers and changing engine formats could be as well received as it has been in F1. At least NASCAR will have a template on how to and how not to react to the fan response having watched Formula 1 works it’s PR machine.

NASCAR is very tied to the manufacturer and I can understand how they want to represent more closely the cars people buy but they stopped doing that a long time ago. It actually used to be the same car you could buy on Monday but no longer. Still, they are a huge marketing machine for manufacturers and certainly are symbiotic organisms in the series.

As for Formula 1, is it as tied to manufacturers as NASCAR is? Some would certainly have you believe they are and when Honda, Toyota and BMW left, I was genuinely worried for the sport—if Ford and Chevy left NASCAR, it would be dire. Not so much with F1, however. Sure, it hurt but the series moves on. That’s because it is a constructor’s championship, not a manufacturer’s championship.

As such, was it crucial that F1 change to the V6 turbo hybrid system given that only three manufacturers are participating? The FIA’s Jean Todt said it was and that we needed to get manufacturers back in the sport—Honda took the bait and will return with engines only in 2015. Perhaps Renault and Mercedes were putting pressure on the FIA to use an engine format that matches their road car designs but I am relatively sure Ferrari were not. So that makes two out of three and McLaren still refusing to roll their own.

The history of F1 is littered with privateers who bought engines from folks who were happy to make them. The interesting thing is that this is where NASCAR is different. The engines in NASCAR are built by five manufacturer-specific companies. TRD and Triad Racing Technologies (Toyota), Roush-Yates Engines (Ford) and ECR Engines and Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet). Huh? Not by the manufacturers? Nope.

It’s an interesting difference in the approach to racing but time will tell if F1 has the engine format right. Time will also tell if NASCAR can find the right format but as it stands, look for more F1-style moves from the heart of American racing. Might be fun to see stockcars try a little brake-by-wire wouldn’t it?

What do you think? Should F1 be looking for more engine makers instead of more teams? Cosworth unfortunately didn’t stay in F1 when it moved to the new format but Renault was threatening to leave, according the the FIA, if they didn’t change. Tough call but engines provide the shove and perhaps NASCAR must reckon the reality as well.

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