When considering rear wheel drive (RWD), front wheel drive (FWD), or all-wheel drive (AWD), any motorsport must factor in costs, logistics, and driver preferences. With all these factors to consider, you may wonder which drivetrain NASCAR has opted for, and if the cars are actually rear wheel drive.
NASCAR cars are rear wheel drive as it is both low-cost and it gives the driver a greater sense of control, both in the turns and on a straightaway. However, NASCAR may experiment with a hybrid model and go AWD if the logistics are in place, and drivers are receptive to the idea.
Below, we will explore NASCAR’s Next-Gen features and discuss whether RWD is something new or if it has always been part of NASCAR. We will also look at how close NASCAR are to adopting a hybrid model complete with AWD.
NASCAR Next Gen Cars are RWD. NASCAR believe rear wheel drive is still the best way to go for the Next Gen, although that could change in the future. RWD gives the driver more control, which creates better racing. Rather than FWD, AWD has drawn consideration for Cup Series cars in the future.
NASCAR is always looking to improve their cars. Since 2001, they introduced the Gen-5 Car, better known as the Car of Tomorrow (CoT), Gen-6, and the Gen-7 (Next Gen). With each new generation of cars, NASCAR’s primary focus falls on a few factors.
The primary factor is safety. Every time NASCAR looks to produce a new ride, they routinely find ways to make the cars safer. Since 2001, NASCAR has suffered zero fatalities at the three highest levels (Cup, Xfinity, Truck). Continually updating car safety is key to this.
NASCAR always wants to improve how entertaining their product is. Before they rolled out the Next Gen, they had to work out how to make their cars safer whilst still improving their track performance.
With technological advancements, NASCAR’s Next Gen Cars feature five-speed gear shifts, new drivetrains, and controls. The cars also contain a new aerodynamics package designed to improve downforce by expelling excess air trapped under the car.
The new aerodynamics package also allows the cars to sit higher, and it includes a diffuser designed to restrain turbulence. Coupled with improvements in downforce, the improved aerodynamics let cars pass one another more efficiently. They also race into the turns, both left and right, more easily.
The cars also more closely resemble their street-legal equivalents. Given the improvements listed above, teams can use the same ride for most tracks on the circuit. Before, they had to make more adjustments to the car if they were on a road course one week and a medium oval the next.
Besides the innovative aerodynamics and downforce, the Next Gen Cars also retained features from their predecessors. The naturally aspirated OEM V8 engine remains, with its targeted horsepower set at 670 for non-restrictor plate/tapered spacer races. The car retains a manual transmission, although it is now sequential manual, and it remains RWD.
NASCAR cars are RWD because it gives the drivers better control over the car. With more efficient power distribution, RWD gives the driver better control during both braking and accelerating. This makes the drivers happier and contributes to more exciting racing for the fans.
In NASCAR, safety comes first, and entertainment is a close second. However, NASCAR must also consider driver preferences and feedback. Overall costs and logistics also factor into NASCAR’s decision-making process, since the cost of owning a Cup team is already very high.
Further, front wheel drive cars are more prone to understeer, as the front tires need to handle both turning and acceleration. This means that the front tires are more likely to break traction before the rear tires, which isn’t great for turning a racecar. Rear wheel drive also offers better acceleration.
NASCAR could use an AWD/4WD system in the near future. In interviews following the Next Gen’s unveiling, NASCAR executives stated that they targeted the mid-2020s to institute a hybrid powertrain, which could see some sort of AWD system used.
A hybrid powertrain is not something NASCAR would completely implement. Instead, there could be a mild implementation with some sort of electric motor powering the front wheels. NASCAR would also need to consider several logistical factors regarding a hybrid system, which would explain the modest transition if it occurred.
NASCAR introducing a hybrid or even an all-electrical system may call for several rule changes in the series. The presence of an electrical generator could save NASCAR teams gallons of gas. This means you wouldn’t see teams stopping for fuel as often during a pit stop. This may mean that NASCAR would have to change the rules around using the gas man during pit stops.
The logistical questions associated with a switch to a hybrid AWD model would change the dynamics of NASCAR. This is a great way to increase competition between drivers as it would call for new strategies in the pits. However, whether or not NASCAR plans to implement any of these systems at any time soon isn’t clear.
When NASCAR first introduced the CoT in 2007, they ran it for just 16 races. Then, based on driver feedback, they expanded the CoT to a full schedule in 2008 and it remained a permanent fixture until 2012. Before switching to a full schedule, NASCAR planned to run the CoT part-time in 2008.
You will probably see NASCAR use the same tactics if they used AWD and a hybrid model. This would help them work things out logistically, which would take a tremendous burden off the teams.
Then they would take a second step and run a mild hybrid system, probably implemented into the car’s transaxle, for an entire season. After more feedback, NASCAR could then fully implement an AWD system based on the hybrid model.
It would be a long process, butNASCAR must successfully ensure all teams are on board when they conduct experimentation. The entertainment factor must also hold. So, if the hybrids cause issues early, don’t expect NASCAR to follow through with them until they work out how to deliver the same level of entertainment.
The primary thing NASCAR would want to avoid when implementing full AWD or hybrid powertrains is the disaster that was the CoT. While the car drastically improved safety, evidenced by Michael McDowell walking away from a horrendous crash in 2008, it never lived up to expectations.
The entertainment value suffered throughout its lifetime and drivers often had several issues with the car as time wore on. They believed the cars to be aesthetically too generic, races to be non-competitive, and you may remember how badly the tires meshed with the track surface at times.
It resulted in years of frustration following initial acceptance that made NASCAR confident enough to run a full-time schedule with the car in 2008. Learning from its mistakes regarding the CoT, it is understandable why NASCAR would take the long road when making further changes to the Next Gen car.
NASCAR cars are RWD because it grants the driver greater control when turning or when accelerating onto a straightaway. NASCAR will always look to satisfy the drivers if they can maintain safety. The possibility for AWD still exists, but for now NASCAR cars remain rear wheel drive.