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Is NASCAR Going Electric?

With societal pressure causing several industries to become more environmentally conscious, it’s reasonable to think popular sports like NASCAR will follow suit. Considering how the auto industry has embraced the electric motor, it’s no surprise that the racing giant may consider an electric option.

At this point, NASCAR is only planning on implementing a hybrid-powered vehicle in 2022. This change doesn’t mean that races will soon be carbon-neutral, as it seems that NASCAR is just looking to benefit from some of the advantages of electric motors.

For more information on NASCAR’s new hybrid innovations, we’ll go over what you can expect to see in the track in the coming years. We’ll also discuss the benefit of hybrid engines and how manufacturers are currently using electric vehicles in racing.

NASCAR’s New Hybrid Era

What does a hybrid NASCAR stock car look like? Well, we’re not entirely sure yet. Initially, stock car fans were going to get a first look at the new vehicles in 2021. However, the Global COVID-19 Pandemic’s delays have pushed the release date of the car back until 2022.

What NASCAR R&D is currently announcing is that a V8 engine will still be the stock car’s heart. All official marketing materials suggest that there will be an additional electric engine powered by a new battery in addition to the standard V8 powerplant.

NASCAR teams can access this additional power in similar ways as drivers Formula E and Indycar. That is, to access the power on-demand in select drive modes or with the push of a button.

Engineers are still discussing how the battery will charge in the Next Gen vehicle. Current hybrid systems in racing championships like Formula 1 use a regenerative braking system to charge the battery.

This charging system works in a race with a lot of cornering, like a road course, but might not be ideal for NASCAR, where ovals have limited breaking opportunities. Systems reliant on regenerative breaking for battery charging see a decrease in battery performance over the life of a race during sustained speeds.

The other potential option is “low performance” modes that can convert engine output to electricity. Drivers or teams can activate this mode at-will, sacrificing performance to charge the battery, knowing that the electric motor can provide a boost later in the race.

The Next Generation NASCAR car has a few other technical specifications that will improve driving, such as a lighter standardized chassis that can benefit from the hybrid drivetrain’s power.

What Are The Benefits Of Implementing Hybrid Drivetrains?

The second electric motor will add an anticipated 150 horsepower to the stock car, providing more speed. While the added horsepower is undoubtedly the motivation behind NASCAR’s implementation of hybrid engines, there are additional bonuses. Using hybrid engines has two great marketing benefits as well.

Every automotive manufacturer in the NASCAR Cup Series has its own hybrid vehicles. By bringing hybrid cars to racing, NASCAR helps increase Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet’s hybrid sales.

Historically, NASCAR manufacturers have lived by the motto “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday,” and the move to include hybrid powerplants on the racetrack shows that the auto racing giant still abides by that phrase.

The next generation of potential NASCAR fans is more environmentally conscious than previous generations. Stock car racing has already made moves to show its commitment to becoming more environmentally aware through many initiatives.

In 2013, NASCAR implemented a fully-electric Ford Fusion Energi Pace Car that easily achieves speeds over 100 miles an hour. Similar innovations include a low-emission ethanol fuel mixture and robust recycling programs for tires and engine oil.

Hybrid cars are just another thing NASCAR can do to help appeal to new groups of climate-conscious viewers, which will help stock car racing grow in popularity.

Electric Drivetrains In Other Racing Series

While NASCAR has relied on V8 engines throughout its history, several other racing championships have already welcomed electric motors onto the racetrack.

The most notable racing series with electric engines is Formula 1. In 2014, the world leader in auto racing entered the turbo-hybrid era. A turbocharged hybrid V6 engine powers these lightweight vehicles around the track at speeds over 200 miles per hour. Since adopting these vehicle regulations, the sport has seen dominance and stellar performances from some of the world’s best drivers.

NASCAR was inspired by Formula 1’s Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) when they started discussing a potential regenerative braking system in the Next Gen Stock Car. The KERS system charges the battery using braking and makes 160 horsepower available on demand.

Formula E is an all-electric form of single-seater open-wheeled racing under the Formula 1 umbrella. The circuit features 12 different racing teams with powertrains made from 10 individual suppliers. These cars reach speeds over 170 miles per hour and race for 45 minutes on road courses worldwide. Formula E is where most auto racing fans would look for a genuinely fully-electric racing option.

Outside of the Formula racing umbrella, electric vehicles have achieved outstanding acclaim across the auto racing world.

An electric car currently holds the record for the fastest time in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The Volkswagen ID.R is an all-electric prototype that completed the climb in 2018 in 57.148 seconds, beating the previous record by 15 seconds.

The Volkswagen ID.R also is the number two record holder for the Nurburgring Nordschleife (the number one record holder for the Nordschleife was the Porsche 919 Hybrid EVO, which runs a V4 engine with a hybrid powertrain.)

With such fantastic performance coming from electric vehicles, it’s hard to think that NASCAR wouldn’t consider implementing electric components in their stock cars. The biggest question remaining is what took NASCAR so long to get this far, and what changes need to happen for the auto racing giant to go fully electric?

What Needs To Happen To Make Electric Stock Car Racing Possible?

Right now, fully-electric racing in NASCAR is not a possibility. This unlikelihood is due to many factors, including a limited range in electric racecars, incredibly long NASCAR races, and the current NASCAR pit-stop structure.

In Formula E, races are usually only about 45 minutes long and range from 80-100 kilometers (50-62 miles) in length. This short length is barely a tenth of what some of the most popular NASCAR races are.

This problem can be solved in two ways: improving battery technology and shortening race lengths.

No one would suggest shortening a NASCAR race to be less than 100 miles. At the very least, automakers need to develop battery technology in electric cars to last twice as long as they currently do. At that point, NASCAR could go about possibly considering electric vehicles if they were willing to make changes to their race format.

Some racing fans have argued that NASCAR races are too long. The typical stock car race lasts around 3 hours (but can go much longer). Shortening them to about 2 hours could improve viewership and make electric cars possible.

Currently, Formula 1 races are about 305 kilometers long (189.5 miles) and last for about 90 minutes. This time and distance are attainable for Formula E cars, with one additional change.

Until the 2018-2019 Formula E season, there was a mandatory pit stop in every race for a car change. The batteries on these high-powered machines simply didn’t last long enough to complete a race. This car change also covered tire changes for the race and ensured each vehicle had enough juice to make it across the finish line.

At this time, car changes in NASCAR are prohibited, except when a car crashes during qualifying or the formation lap. This regulation would prevent Formula E’s car change pitstop.

One of the major detractors of electric vehicles in NASCAR is that many fans think that battery changes would be required during pit stops. Swapping cars mid-race eliminates this concern and allows races to exceed battery range limits.

Battery technology is improving all the time but has some functional issues. In Teslas (which might be a more accurate simulation of electric stock cars, as they have a full chassis), extended periods in Ludicrous Mode can cause overheating (as there’s no blower in the radiator), which leads to a degradation of battery life.

Until automakers can find a way to make battery technology more sustainable, it’s unlikely we’ll see a fully electric NASCAR field.

Final Thoughts

So, is NASCAR going electric? Not exactly. With the implementation of an electric motor and a KERS system, NASCAR stock cars are adopting electric components but are unlikely to go to an entirely electric setup anytime soon. The simple reason for this is that the technology can’t handle the abuse that a stock car race deals out.

However, a significant factor holding the sport back from making innovations to allow for electric racing is that, on all accounts, drivers and fans aren’t’ ready for an electric car. While many are excited about the KERS system’s power, drivers are already showing skepticism about this new age of racing.

Drivers like Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman have shown skepticism at electric drivetrains. They’re worried about how fans would receive a quieter engine or less automotive performance in the name of lower emissions.

These are valid concerns, but ultimately, following worldwide trends is what keeps a sport relevant. If every racing federation moves to hybrid and electric vehicles, NASCAR could end up left in the dust.