The Ford vs Toyota vs Chevrolet NASCAR engines debate never ends. Fans, often loyal to one manufacturer over the other, fiercely believe their preferred manufacturer makes the best engines. However, Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet engines in NASCAR have a few key differences and similarities.
There are few key differences between Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet NASCAR engines. Most of the differences entail how they are built, and what minor features may give them an advantage during a race. However, NASCAR’s strict specifications limit all major advantages.
Below, we will reveal just how identical Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet engines are, and how NASCAR’s specifications keep them from gaining unfair advantages. We will also discuss the minor distinctions between each engine, and their supposed selling points for NASCAR teams.
NASCAR engines are not the same as road car engines. Though there are some clear similarities, there are also a few differences. NASCAR cars may look like their street legal equivalents, but their engines vary in size, volume of pistons, and absence of mufflers and catalytic converters.
When you look closely at NASCAR cars, you will see that they are essentially Chevy Camaros, Ford Mustangs, and Toyota Camrys. With the advent of the Nex Gen car, these powerful rides look a lot like their street legal equivalents.
Despite obvious similarities, differences exist between NASCAR and road cars aesthetically. For one, they use different types of tires. Unlike road cars, NASCAR cars have head and brake light stickers, and they also contain spoilers to help keep them from going airborne.
They also contain different types of engines, which vary in size and power. NASCAR engines are predictably larger than the street legal versions. NASCAR engines contain more volume of pistons in their engine’s cylinders, and they do not have mufflers or catalytic converters. Nearly everything about the NASCAR engine is larger than road car engines.
All NASCAR engines are not the same. Manufacturers submit their engine designs to be approved and may build them to their liking upon approval. This creates differences in the engines. However, all manufacturers must obey certain specifications laid out by NASCAR, leaving a few similarities.
You may have heard of the term “spec series.” In a spec series, all the cars’ engines are the same since they rely on a driver’s skill more than anything else. In a series that does not involve specifications, drivers whose team owners have access to better equipment have an advantage.
NASCAR is clustered into the latter, leaving room for the engines to vary some. All three of NASCAR’s manufacturers must submit an engine design to NASCAR to be approved for competition. If NASCAR approves the engine, the manufacturers may build them to their liking.
However, they must still abide by certain specifications. Those specifications can change during any given season.Just because NASCAR unveils a new car model does not mean that particular model is set in stone for the next five to fifteen years.
When you look at NASCAR’s Chevy Camaros, Ford Mustangs, and Toyota Camrys, you can tell they are different cars. However, despite their differences, you can point out numerous similarities. Their tires are the same. The rear spoilers, the safety features, and the type of fuel they take are the same as well.
Other similarities include steel tube framing for the chassis, length of 193.4 inches, width of 78.6 inches, and a 50.4-inch height. Each car features a 110-inch wheelbase. Think of NASCAR engines the same way as the cars’ aesthetics. You will know the manufacturer that the engine belongs to just by looking at it. You will also realize they have just as many similarities as they do differences.
NASCAR has certain specifications and regulations on the engines. The engines may contain no more than 358 cubic inches of displacement. They must have a 12:1 compression ratio, have eight cylinders, natural aspiration, and include a front engine, rear-wheel layout.
Once NASCAR’s manufacturers meet the specs outlined above, they can tweak to distinguish them against competing brands. The engines may also contain different levels of horsepower, but tapered spacers will limit the overall power to NASCAR’s standards.
NASCAR teams may build no more than 13 engines per season, and they must use each engine at least twice. Most NASCAR teams bring two engines and two cars to each event. However, to avoid a penalty, they can only use one of those engines. The second engine is a backup in case they need it. If a team switches to a backup, their driver must start from the rear of the field.
You may be wondering how NASCAR knows who is following their specifications and who isn’t. NASCAR keeps a close eye on all 36 to 40 Cup Series teams week in and week out through rigorous inspections. In the event of a failed inspection, teams are given a chance to fix the error. However, the driver will face a penalty, usually sending them to the rear of the field to start.
It can also be common for drivers, especially winning drivers, failing a post-race inspection. NASCAR will dismantle the car for any type of infraction. If the car fails inspection, NASCAR often penalizes the offending team driver and owner points.
Multiple infractions will lead to fines and even suspensions. NASCAR does not solely inspect the engine following a race. They will also check the car’s suspension system and anything else they feel could have given the winning driver an advantage during the event.
NASCAR teams can modify their engines. As long as the engine complies with all specifications and regulations set by NASCAR, the teams can modify the engines however they’d like. Usually, teams do not need to get NASCAR’s approval of their adjustments or modifications.
Think of engine specifications and legal modifications in NASCAR like a set of rules for an NFL game. There can only be 11 players on offense and defense at any time. On offense, the offensive linemen cannot touch the ball once it is snapped, and only the center can snap the ball.
Defensive players may not encroach the line of scrimmage, and offensive players cannot move before the center snaps the ball. However, NFL head coaches and coordinators can modify their game plan if they are within the NFL’s rules.
For example, defensive players can make a sudden movement to try and draw a false start. The quarterback may try to use a certain snap count to draw the defense offsides. Both teams may also make other necessary adjustments, even controversial ones, if they stay within the rules.
The same concept applies for NASCAR teams when modifying an engine. If the engine remains within the NASCAR-mandated specs, the teams can make whatever modifications they want. The teams typically do not need to run a proposed adjustment by NASCAR.
Going back to the NFL example, the best coaches would use specific innovations and techniques to remain ahead of the NFL rulebook. Paul Brown and Bill Belichick are two primary examples of this. The same principle holds true for NASCAR teams.
The smartest teams will scour NASCAR’s rulebook and look for loopholes in the rules to modify an engine to their advantage. While this is clever, if NASCAR feels a specific modification is providing teams too much of an advantage, expect that loophole to close the following season.
All NASCAR engines have roughly the same power. NASCAR values brand identity while ensuring that no team has an unfair advantage. To prevent unfair advantages, NASCAR mandates that all Next Gen engines target 670 horsepower. Therefore, all NASCAR engines have roughly the same amount of power.
NASCAR always strives to level the playing field among manufacturers while still maintaining brand identity. However, they have grown stricter with their specifications because they don’t want one manufacturer to put too much distance over the others.
Suppose Ford found a way to enhance their engine’s power and they won 30 of 36 races while Chevy and Toyota split for three wins apiece. Then, during Chevy and Toyota’s wins, Ford’s made up most of the top 10. This would motivate teams using Chevy and Toyota to split from the manufacturers and opt for driving Fords – at least until Chevy and Toyota found ways to match the power of Ford’s engines.
To prevent such a scenario from happening, NASCAR, for the Next Gen cars, mandated that the engines must target 670 horsepower. They also created a second aerodynamics and engine package for Daytona and Talladega, where the engines have around 510 horsepower (this all depends on the use of tapered spacers, formerly restrictor plates).
As touched on above, NASCAR’s engines and aerodynamic specs come in packages – usually one for superspeedways and one for medium tracks and road courses. For the latter, the cars contain a four-inch spoiler with up to 1,000 pounds of downforce. The superspeedway package contains a seven-inch spoiler.
Both specification packages contain tapered spacers. NASCAR implemented these to replace the old restrictor plates, and they are responsible for keeping the cars’ engines limited to their respective 670 and 510 horsepower. Tapered spacers are like restrictor plates, but they bring more gas and air into the car’s engine than their predecessors. They also don’t have straight, but “tapered” holes.
Built by Roush Yates Engines, Ford has used FR9 engines since 2012, replacing the R452 model. Roush Yates has had its partnership with Ford since 2007. Like most NASCAR engines, they are handcrafted and built specifically for the NASCAR Cup Series.
Roush Yates takes pride in the engine’s cooling system more than anything else, and they use it as a selling point for prospective teams. They claim the cooling system better wards off high operating temperatures associated with NASCAR, allowing the car to race longer at peak performance.
Toyota entered the NASCAR Cup Series in 2007. They use special blueprinting technology to ensure sure their engines meet and do not deviate from NASCAR’s specifications. They independently test their engines via a dynamometer, which gauges overall power. Revolutions per minute (RPM), is Toyota’s biggest concern, and they constantly test their engines to maximize RPM, staying within NASCAR’s specs.
Chevy’s R07 engines have been a fixture in NASCAR since 2007. Like the Roush Yates engines that Ford produces, Chevy handcrafts these engines for NASCAR only. Before the R07’s introduction, Chevy used an engine called SB2 that was in production between 1998 and 2006.
While Ford talks up its cooling system, Chevy is closer to Toyota regarding their ultimate selling points, which is to strive for as much RPM as their engines can safely attain. This comes with an improved valve train via a higher camshaft than what the old SB2 engines contained.
As you can tell from the information above, there are no massive differences among the engines of the three manufacturers. Between Chevy, Toyota, and Ford, they differ in brand names, performance-based selling points, and how the manufacturers test their engines.
Between the targeted horsepower and the rigorous inspections that each team submits to, there are minute differences between Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet NASCAR engines. NASCAR’s specifications create a rather equal playing field between Chevy, Ford, and Toyota that results in similar engines.
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