NASCAR delivered its 2020 Cup Series rulebook to teams on Tuesday, and the end result will be a very similar on-track product to 2019.
However, behind the scenes will look drastically different as the sanctioning body surges ahead towardÂ a new race car and engine platform that will debut in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
NASCAR introduced a polarizing low-horsepower and high-downforce competition package for its largest ovals this season to mixed results. On one hand, the package has made for more thrilling restarts and produced the occasional exciting finish. On the other, the lack of off-throttle time has generated conversation about racing purity.
Additionally, the 8-inch rear spoiler has undeniably stifled passing on some of the narrowest tracks like Michigan, Pocono, Indianapolis and Dover due to the wake the car now generates. While the argument can be made that it has made for more fun intermediate tracks, it is also inarguable that it has negatively affected short tracks and road courses.
Like most things, opinion about the direction has been a largely subjective and partisan affair.
But NASCAR officials, such as senior vice president of innovation and racing development John Probst, approve of what theyâve seen this year, so there was little reason to make widespread changes with a new car looming over the figurative horizon.
“The 2019 season has produced great racing, and we anticipate the level of competition to continue to rise as teams build off this rules package in 2020,” Probst said in a press release. “Collectively, we continue to work closely as an industry to put on the best racing possible for our fans, while working diligently on the Next Gen car, scheduled to make its debut in 2021.”
But those arenât the only differencesÂ for 2020 as NASCAR has also ordered procedural changes intended to cut costs in advance of that new car. That includes capping the number of chassis a team can use throughout the season, wind tunnel visit limits and a roster decrease.
A brief outline of those changes:
â˘ Each car number will be allowed a maximum of 12 certified chassis designated as âactiveâ at any given time. There was previously no limit. Each vehicle number will also be allowed to retain four chassis designated as âinactive,â set aside for future use. Chassis can be decertified or retired only after use in a minimum of three races or if damage from a crash is deemed irreparable. Chassis designated for the preseason Clash exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway will not count against a car numberâs active allotment, unless that chassis is also used in the Daytona 500. Also, each organization will be permitted a maximum of 10 unique chassis designs.
â˘ Organizations will be limited to a total of 150 hours of wind-tunnel testing per year. There was previously no limit. Testing is only permitted at four approved wind-tunnel facilities: Aerodyn Wind Tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina; Auto Research Center (ARC) in Indianapolis; Penske Technology Group Wind Tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina; and Windshear Wind Tunnel in Concord, North Carolina. Manufacturers are not permitted to conduct wind-tunnel tests on current-generation cars. There is no restriction on the amount of wind-tunnel testing and development for the next-gen car model slated for 2021.
â˘ Officials have introduced new at-track roster limits for the 2020 season, reducing the maximum number of âroad crewâ personnel (engineers, mechanics, crew/car chief, spotters) from 12 to 10 during race weekends. Additionally, the new structure will limit the amount of âorganizational staffâ for each organization to three. Previously, three- or four-car teams were allowed to carry a fourth rostered member at the organizational level (i.e., technical director, competition manager).
â˘ Teams must compete in a minimum of eight events with a full long-block sealed engine and at least eight events with a short-block sealed engine. Previous rules dictated three full long-block seals and 13 short-block sealed engines. Cup Series officials and teams recently began the postrace procedure of sealing enginesâeither fully (long block) or just the bottom portion (short block)âas a measure to prevent costly and time-consuming rebuilds.
HOW IS THIS A PREVIEW OF THE NEXT-GEN CAR?
There is a lot to digest here.
The next-gen car will have a single-supplier chassis manufacturer. NASCAR previously met with Dallara, the provider of IndyCarâs spec frame, in May but has said it has not yet landed on a provider of its own. Five Star Bodies will produce a composite body similar to those inÂ ARCA and Xfinity for the Cup Series.
As a result, NASCAR is bridging its wayÂ to the new car by limiting the work that can be done to the old car.
Additionally, the current rules package is believed to be a preview of things to come with the next-gen car, as well. The seventh-generation car will be a high-drag, high-downforce machine that will eventually be equipped with a motor that is only capable of maxing out at 550 hp once the new powerplant regulations kick in in 2021.
The current engine platform is capable of producing over 900 hp but isÂ currently restricted via the use of a tapered spacer that limits the power to 750 on oval tracks under 1Â mile and 550 on tracks longerÂ than a mile.
WHAT IS THIS STUFF ABOUT LAYOFFS?
With NASCAR moving to a sole-supplier chassis and body platform, teams are expected to cut a significant amount of personnel as a result. Sure, the chassis supplier and Five Star Bodies will likely hire some of the best available free agents, but there are a lot of people set to lose their jobs as the discipline evolves.
And while this unfortunate —Â and thatâs a massive understatement — NASCAR feels like it has to do something. Technology has evolved to such a point that the costs to participate far outweigh the benefits of doing so. Itâs not a sustainable business model. Sure, some teams will take the savings from fabricators and suspension specialists and just reallocate those resources to computer programming.
But this is a never-ending game that NASCAR is working to stay ahead of.
WHY NO CHANGES TO THE PACKAGE FOR SHORT TRACKS, ROAD COURSES?
Even if not everyone agrees on the changes to the racing product for intermediate tracks, everyone seems to agree that the high downforce has had a significant negative effect on short tracks and road courses.
The reason NASCAR didnât order a reduction in downforce for short tracks and road courses for 2020 is the same reason why itÂ didnât for 2019: team owners.
The team owners did not want to develop two aero packages simultaneously, in addition to two different engine packages.