CONCORD, N.C. — Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competitors will admit there are a lot of unknowns heading into the new season.
A new rules package, set to debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Feb. 24, is likely to mark the start of a new era for teams and drivers.
Instead of the 700-plus horsepower that the Cup Series engines were making in past years, teams will now be racing with roughly 550 horsepower under the hood thanks to the use of a tapered spacer. Aero ducts will also be used to create tighter racing among the field. These particular rules will be utilized at 17 Cup Series races.
That, combined a taller spoiler, a larger front splitter and a wider radiator pan, are expected to make the racing considerably different at most of the tracks on the schedule.
“I think these new aero rules are really gonna change it up a lot,” said Team Penske’s Joey Logano, the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. “This is definitely going to be a very different year.”
The new aero package, a version of which was tested during the Monster Energy All-Star Race last May at Charlotte Motor Speedway, is designed to prevent drivers from pulling away from the pack on 1.5-mile speedways.
“Definitely the draft is going to come into play,” said Logano. “We got a glimpse of what it was like during the All-Star Race. As teams evolve and figure out what works, the cream will always rise to the top. Nothing’s going to be different from that standpoint. The best cars, the best drivers will win the races.
“You have may have a few more random, wild card type winners. But I’m pretty stoked to get back in the race car to see what it’s got.”
While most teams will be working to adapt to the new rules package, Logano and his Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney will also be adapting to a new race car. Ford is debuting its new Mustang NASCAR Cup Series body this year and Blaney admits that when the car was originally being designed they were building it based off the old rules package from 2018.
“When Ford was designing this Mustang we didn’t know the rule changes were coming,” said Blaney, who won last year’s inaugural event on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL. “So we were helping areas on the car that were helping in 2018. So when they came out with that rules package change it was like, ‘Man, I think it will still work.’
“I just don’t know how it’s going to be. You never know how you’re going to stack up against competition until you actually get out there.”
Keselowski, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, said he believes there will be a lot of change in the on-track product at short tracks as well.
With that said, Keselowski admits he doesn’t yet know what that change is going to look like and he’ll be discovering it at the same time everyone else does.
“The tracks under one mile with the big-big downforce, the pace is going to be really, really fast,” said Keselowski. “How that affects the cars is yet to be known. That, to me, is the biggest question mark. There is a lot of talk about the mile and a halves, and rightfully so, but I think a bigger question mark to me in a lot of ways is the non mile and a halves.”
So with all these changes to the rules package, will fans really notice a difference in the on-track product? Logano thinks so.
“Believe me, you will notice a difference,” Logano said. “I think it will change throughout the first 10-15 races. We’re going to have to kind of figure out what it’s like at the mile and a half with the drag ducts, then what it’s going to be like when we go to a short track and we have the big power in the cars again. What do we like, what do we not like? We’re all going to be opinionated, of course, and try to figure out what we want to do.
“On top of everything, you may have more separation on the field at the beginning of the year and then as teams figure out their setups and figure out the type of bodies they need to build and figure out all this stuff, that’s where you have that typical NASCAR race that is very close and all the cars are almost the same speed. That’s a piece of it.
“I think another piece is trying to figure out that drag versus downforce when you build these cars. Do you want to be fast on a short run and be trimmed out or do you want to good on the long run and have a little downforce? We’re going to figure that out real quick when we get to Atlanta here early in the year.”