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Why Are NASCAR Cars So Low?

NASCAR cars are the ultimate science experiment. With each generation, that science experiment grows more advanced. In 2022, the Next Gen car expanded on that experiment, riding a bit higher than its predecessors. But they are still low down, and it’s easy to wonder why NASCAR cars are so low. 

NASCAR cars are so low because, along with a lower center of gravity, the cars can produce more downforce. This allows them to grip the track better, which helps them go faster in the turns and stay on the track. The Next Gen car sits higher, but it produces more downforce by design.

Below, we will discuss how low to the ground the Next Gen car is and how low its predecessors were. We will also explain in detail why NASCAR cars sit so low, how much downforce the Next Gen car produces, and why it can sit higher than the cars that came before it. 

How Low To The Ground Are NASCAR Cars?

The Generation 6 NASCAR cars were at the lowest possible point they could be without making contact with the track surface. The Next Gen cars sit higher off the ground, and you can see that the cars have a few inches between it and the ground. 

With the advent of the Next Gen car, you can tell that they and NASCAR cars resemble street legal cars much better than the Generation 6 car did. But you may also have realized that your production car sits higher than even the Next Gen car

When you look at the Next Gen car, you can see that it sits higher off the ground than its Generation 6 predecessor. But it is still low enough that you can tell it’s a NASCAR car, even if you were to take its spoiler off and put a set of production tires onto it. 

Flashback to the year 2009, the Car of Tomorrow (CoT) sat just as low as its Generation 6 successor. Before NASCAR discarded the design following the 2007 season, the Generation 4 car also sat just as low.  

Cars Didn’t Always Sit So Low

NASCAR cars did not start sitting so low until they unveiled the Generation 3 car in 1981. The Generation 2 car’s bodies were still strictly stock, and therefore, they still strongly resembled production cars. 

Flashback to Generation 1, which graced the track between 1949 and 1966. These cars were true stock cars, so much that drivers and teams bought them from dealerships. So, it makes sense to say that they came nowhere near sitting as low as the Generation 3 rides. 

But the Generation 3 took more stock out of stock car racing. While the design still held some resemblance to their road car counterpart, they sat substantially lower thanks to scientific advancements in aerodynamics and downforce

Since the lower-sitting NASCAR cars had increased downforce, it made sense for teams to keep their cars as low to the track surface as possible. 

Why Do NASCAR Cars Have To Be So Low To The Ground?

NASCAR cars have to be low to the ground so they can generate more downforce. This downforce helps the cars go faster in corners, and to stay on the track and avoid going airborne. Even though the Next Gen car sits higher off the ground, it still produces a lot of downforce.

Throughout the evolution of its cars, NASCAR deviated itself from being sport bent on modifying an engine to make a car faster and more powerful. Instead, physics took over and NASCAR cars became one big science experiment. And with each new generation of cars introduced, the more revolutionary that science experiment gets

A common denominator with each new car is its safety features. The popular misconception is that before Dale Earnhardt’s death in February 2001, NASCAR paid little attention to safety. In reality, NASCAR’s safety mandates began when the sport started

Early on, they mandated their drivers to wear seat belts. Then, roll cages became a regular part of NASCAR’s safety features. Even during the 1980s and 1990s, you heard NASCAR commentators commend NASCAR’s safety efforts. Especially during wrecks that looked violent. The low-sitting cars were yet another safety feature NASCAR cooked up in the early 1980s.  

How Low-Sitting Cars Improve Safety

One reason the Next Gen cars do not sit as low is that they naturally have much more downforce than their predecessors. But this wasn’t the case between 1981 and 2021. NASCAR discovered that the lower a car sits, the better they grip the track, which in turn, produced downforce.  

In other words, NASCAR cars were less likely to go airborne and roll during a race. NASCAR is also full of fast, sharp turns. The lower a car sits, the less likely they are to barrel roll when diving into a turn at lower-banked tracks. 

You may be reading this and recalling times when cars did go airborne during wrecks. While this is true, you probably never saw a NASCAR car toppling over if they sped into a turn too fast. That’s a testament to lower-sitting cars. 

How Much Downforce Do NASCAR Cars Produce?

NASCAR’s Next Gen car can produce about 4,000 to 5,000 lbs of downforce. This is a lot more than the Generation 6 cars, which only produced 3,500 to 4,000 lbs. This drastic increase in downforce is due to the Next Gen’s new aerodynamic design, allowing for more control over the airflow.

NASCAR’s endgame is to keep cars from toppling over. So besides low-sitting cars, other safety features added to their cars include flaps on the roof and the hood. These help spoil airflow that gets trapped under the car, which causes the car to rise when it spins and drifts backward. Something that can occur no matter how low the car sat. 

Despite these safety features, before the Next Gen car was released, cars still flew into the air and crashed hard into the catch fence. Carl Edwards’ 2009 wreck at Talladega and Austin Dillon’s 2015 wreck at Daytona served as prime examples. 

So NASCAR realized they still needed to go beyond the lower-sitting cars and roof flaps to keep these cars from going airborne or rolling. 

When they hauled out the Next Gen car, a stronger aerodynamic and downforce package was a must. And while Chris Buescher’s flip at Charlotte in 2022 shows there is still more work to be done, the NASCAR Next Gen car produces more downforce than any of its predecessors. 

Next Gen Car’s Downforce

NASCAR’s Generation 6 car lasted from 2013 until 2021. That car produced between 3,500 and 4,000 pounds of downforce. Bubba Wallace stated in October 2021 that the Next Gen car produced about 1,000 more pounds of downforce than the Gen 6 cars. 

Several new features on the Next Gen car have made the increased downforce possible. One such feature included hoot-top vents. This forced dislodged air to continually push the car’s front end toward the track. 

There is also an underwing, which expels air trapped underneath the car. A diffuser located at the rear bumper further curtails turbulence. 

The increased downforce also called for stronger engines. The 550-horsepower package of NASCAR’s past was not going to cut it, so they bumped the overall horsepower to 670 at most tracks, and 510 at superspeedways. 

Final Thoughts

NASCAR cars sit so low to produce more downforce. Also, the lower a car sits, the lower its center of gravity, and the better it sticks to the track surface. The Next Gen car does not sit as low to the ground, but it still produces up to 5,000 lbs of downforce thanks to its unique design.