There are several important factors to consider before we can accurately claim that NASCAR is a spec series. NASCAR has long believed true racing translates into unique rides rather than staunch specifications. However, many wonder if recent changes have transformed NASCAR into a spec series.
NASCAR is not strictly a spec series as not all cars are exactly the same. A spec racing series requires all vehicles to have the same make, model, and engine, among other parts. However, NASCAR cars, regardless of manufacturer, must adhere to some specifications.
While NASCAR is not a spec series in a traditional sense, their three manufacturers have agreed upon specific components in each car’s engine, chassis, and electrical components without sacrificing brand identity. Below, we will discuss NASCAR’s specifications and what makes the cars unique.
What Is A Spec Series?
A spec series, or a one-make series, is a racing series where drivers drive the same car model. Spec series focus more on drivers’ skills, meaning teams can’t put massive amounts of funding into a car that could provide advantages over another car of a low-budget team.
Cars in spec racing series also tend to use the same manufacturer, engines, electrical components, aerodynamics, suspension, and chassis. However, despite driving identical cars, spec racing series do allow for specific modifications to fixtures like the camber and ride height.
Many racing fans believe this allows for a fairer playing field. Another aspect of a spec series that draws fans’ interest is that, since drivers are handling the same car, they realize the winning driver is most likely the best in the event.
Teams with higher funding can still gain an edge in a spec series. They can hire mechanics who are more well-versed in providing modifications the sanctioning body allows. Better-funded teams also have access to better engineers, strategists, and proven drivers. Regardless of these advantages, a spec racing series team’s success still depends far more on the driver’s ability than the car setup.
Is NASCAR A Spec Series?
NASCAR is technically not a spec series. However, the cars do have some spec traits. There are several specifications that the cars must meet including weight and engine restrictions. NASCAR seems to be intent on remaining a non-spec series in the future.
Many believe NASCAR to be a spec series because it mandates engines of both 750-hp and 550-hp packages, depending on the track. NASCAR also mandates cars to weigh a minimum of 3,200 lb. With drivers and fuel added, cars must weigh at least 3,400 lb.
Yet in 2019, NASCAR announced they had no plans to become a spec series with their Next Gen car, which debuted in 2022. Brand identity and engine independence were two reasons behind their decision to remain a non-spec series.
However, NASCAR carries some spec traits. During their announcement in 2019, they agreed on spec electrical and common components, rear suspension, and chassis. And, as you may notice, the cars’ bodies remain unique toward their respective manufacturer.
The manufacturers supported NASCAR’s decision not to go spec. Ford performance global director, Mark Rushbrook, stated, “none of the three (manufacturers) would be racing,” if NASCAR transformed into a spec series.
NASCAR did introduce spec engines into the Camping World Truck Series. Since 2019, the three manufacturers don’t believe NASCAR will go any further than the engines, meaning differences will still exist among the unique makes and models seen at the Xfinity and Cup levels.
Are All NASCARs The Same?
All NASCARs are not the same. However, even with three manufacturers, each car still manages to have similar qualities dictated by NASCAR. There are certain specifications the cars must meet to provide a somewhat-even playing field for the drivers.
To keep leveling the field, NASCAR constantly researches and develops new cars.You may have heard the terms Car of Tomorrow (CoT), Gen 6, and Next Gen cars. NASCAR spends millions in constant research to maximize competitiveness among their drivers.
However, NASCAR’s mandated specifications are nothing more than a design that teams can modify to their liking as long as they play within NASCAR’s rules. So, while NASCAR cars boast similarities thanks to the designs, they are still unique. Further, teams with more money to spend, thanks to sponsors, can still hire better pit crew members, drivers, spotters, specialists, and mechanics.
Why They Aren’t The Same
Some teams, like Hendrick Motorsports, are such valuable organizations that they would lure the best in the industry, which would continue to give them an edge, even in a spec series. Therefore, turning NASCAR into a spec series would make little sense given the hundreds of millions some teams earn.
While Hendrick Motorsports and other high-end organizations would still dominate, smaller and start-up organizations would suffer. Even if every NASCAR car was the same, it would make no difference to a low-budget team that could barely afford a pit crew, let alone a proven driver.
For example, in the 2006 Daytona 500 Kirk Shelmerdine ran a good race, finishing a career-high 20th. However, he was so low on funds that a group of Dale Earnhardt fans donated his tires and personal friends in NASCAR came together to make up his pit crew.
Shelmerdine finished races between 38th and 43rd place between 2004 and 2006. Given his funding was so low he couldn’t even hire a full-time pit crew, low-budget teams like Kirk Shelmerdine Racing could not have competed with Hendrick Motorsports even if NASCAR was a spec series.
It is unlikely that NASCAR cars will ever be exactly the same. However, in the future, NASCAR may introduce new specifications that the three manufacturers must follow. If they do propose stricter specifications, it is likely that NASCAR will receive pushback from the manufacturers.
All three manufacturers value their independent engines, body, and aerodynamics. They don’t believe they would be truly racing with strict specs because the more that NASCAR requires, the less unique the three manufacturers become.
When each manufacturer brings something different to a NASCAR garage area, it’s up to the other manufacturers to keep pace and innovate. Suppose Toyota were to find an edge with aerodynamics, it would force Chevrolet and Ford to further improve their cars.
Manufacturer independence, even with some specs, gives them a reason to improve their product, which makes for more exciting races. Despite the desire for independence via the body and engines, all three manufacturers agreed on a design to follow.
You may hear the term template, which is a guideline that each NASCAR organization must adhere to. Below we will describe what those templates are, and the consequences teams and organizations face if they fail a template inspection.
A NASCAR template is a guide used to ensure the body shape and height of each car is within its legal limits. These are angular devices that NASCAR officials use during inspections before qualifying, racing, and following the race.
If you watched your favorite drivers run test sessions with the Next Gen car before the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series, you probably noticed each car looked identical to the next, minus their Chevy Camaro ZL1, Ford Mustang GT, and Toyota Camry TRD bodies.
If the template fits and the car passes inspection, they are good to go for qualifying. However, if they pass initial inspection, qualify, and then fail final inspection before a race, they will start from the back, even if they qualify on pole position.
If NASCAR inspects and fails their car following the race, the team often faces fines and loses championship points. For repeat offenses, team members, like the crew chief, can face suspensions.
Before the Car of Tomorrow (CoT), NASCAR used different templates, sometimes up to 30 different types. Since then, NASCAR has used a single template for each car. Some NASCAR fans further use the term ‘template’ to describe similarities between each car. However, a more accurate term would be ‘design.’ Each car design features specific characteristics as dictated by NASCAR.
How Are NASCAR’s Cars The Same?
NASCAR’s cars are the same in the sense that they have similarities based on the designs dictated, regardless of manufacturer. These similarities are often most present in the engine and general body shape. NASCAR is constantly researching and developing ways to improve their current car designs.
Since the death of Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR has strived to make its vehicles and events safer, without sacrificing speed and entertainment for the fans. Following the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR went to work in making these improvements, and they debuted the Car of Tomorrow in 2007.
The Car of Tomorrow, or CoT, was slightly taller and wider than its predecessor. It also introduced driver’s seats that are positioned closer to the center, with the roll cage tilted toward the rear. Built with more contact absorbing foam, their improved crumple zones handled contact better.
The Gen-6 car also featured similarities among the three manufacturers. They included better-enforced roll cages and larger roof flaps. Technological improvements included new body panels and carbon fiber hood and deck lids.
The CoT lasted until 2012 before the Gen-6 car replaced it. The Next-Gen car was scheduled to debut in 2021 but the COVID-19 Pandemic delayed that to 2022. The following section shows you how the Next-Gen cars are alike regardless of manufacturer.
The Next-Gen car features revamped aerodynamic and downforce packages. Aerodynamic vents are now on the hood and for the first time in their history, cars now have a rear diffuser to further improve aerodynamic properties. This also gives the cars more downforce.
The chassis on the Next-Gen car features a steel space frame, despite earlier reports indicating they were switching to carbon fiber. Technique currently serves as the official manufacturer for all NASCAR chassis.
The five-speed Xtrac Limited sequential manual transmission replaces the old four-speed manual, and the cars also share an independent rear suspension.The Next-Gen car also has a rear-facing camera, plus new 18-inch aluminum wheels.
Regardless of whether it’s Chevy, Toyota, or Ford, each Next-Gen design also takes the same type of fuel. Sunoco has served as the official fuel provider for NASCAR since 2004 when it replaced Unocal’s 76 Brand. They also use the same Goodyear tires.
As you can see, from the CoT to the Gen-6, and the Next-Gen cars, they each possess similarities in their designs that each NASCAR manufacturer, organization, and team must comply with. NASCAR’s next creation will also carry specific requirements for their manufacturers to follow.
Like the templates discussed earlier, if NASCAR finds any of the above specifications deviating from their mandates, teams can face discipline. Now that we know more about how NASCAR designs each new generation of vehicle to contain similarities, we will determine if the same holds true for NASCAR engines.
Are All NASCAR Engines The Same?
All NASCAR engines are not the same. Though they look alike on the surface, each of the three manufacturers builds their engines differently. If they pass the NASCAR-sanctioned pre-race inspection, they are cleared for qualifying and the race.
With three different manufacturers in NASCAR, it’s easy to conclude each manufacturer wants to gain an advantage over its competition. Just as with the car designs described above, NASCAR requires its manufacturers to follow specifications regarding each car’s engine, which leads to some similarities.
Notable specifications include certain measurements on engine cylinders and that each engine must be fuel injected. Also, fuel and electronic systems can only come from NASCAR-approved manufacturers. NASCAR’s mandates for each engine include a maximum size of 358 cubic inches, a 12:1 compression ratio, and eight cylinders.
Before Toyota, Ford, and Chevrolet even build their engines, NASCAR must approve their proposed design. Despite each manufacturer’s desire for engine independence, the engines are so similar that it’s estimated their performance is between 98% and 99% similar.
While each manufacturer, organization, and team will seek advantages, NASCAR will always implement further crackdowns if they feel one engine gains too much of an advantage. But if each NASCAR manufacturer’s engine is at least 98% like its peers, what is so different between Toyota, Ford, and Chevrolet?
Ford’s engines are also called FR9. Roush Yates Engines was the brain behind them, and their relationship with Ford goes back to 2007. Purposely built for the NASCAR Cup Series, the FR9 debuted at the sport’s highest level in 2012.
The FR9 produces up to 800 horsepower and its cooling system sets it apart from Toyota and Chevrolet. The system keeps the engine operating efficiently even at high temperatures.
Toyota’s engines undergo a process called blueprinting before they submit their designs to NASCAR. This process ensures that what Toyota is submitting falls in line with NASCAR’s standards before they produce roughly 400 engines for its NASCAR Cup Teams.
Each Toyota engine undergoes further testing through a dynamometer device. This test lets Toyota estimate each engine’s horsepower and torque, plus how well it holds under duress. This process allows Toyota to continually improve their engines, assuming they adhere to NASCAR’s standards.
The R07 engine goes back to 2007 and was their first completely new V8 engine since 1955, although they provided systemic upgrades over the decades. The R07 was also the manufacturer’s first engine built specifically for NASCAR.
Oil is the lifeblood of a car, and for the R07 it’s even more important as it’s the main component used to keep parts cool. Especially since this engine can operate at 10,000 RPM. The engine replaced the popular SB2, which teams used from 1998 to 2006.
NASCAR’s Basic Engine Regulations
Before each manufacturer submits their engine designs for approval, they must contain the following 13 parts:
- Fuel pump
- Fuel injector
- Ignition system and coils
- Harmonic balancer
- Connecting rods
- Engine block
- Cylinder heads
- Intake manifold and spacers
While each manufacturer may provide new engines to NASCAR teams, the teams can reuse any of the above parts to their liking. They can even modify them as long as they remain in compliance with NASCAR regulations.
NASCAR is not a spec series. However, each racing organization and manufacturer must adhere to the governing body’s stringent standards. Manufacturers can still maintain brand differentiation and teams can gain an edge over their competition.