Roger Diez: Has NASCAR finally achieved parity?
So far it looks like NASCAR has achieved its goal of parity in the NASCAR Cup series. Alex Bowman’s win at Auto Club Speedway last Sunday pulled Chevrolet even with Ford (Joey Logano’s Las Vegas win) and Toyota (Denny Hamlin’s Daytona 500 victory). This weekend it’s a new ballgame, the first short-track race of the season at the 1-mile flat Phoenix oval. It will be the inaugural run for the new short-track package, featuring a shorter rear spoiler and front splitter, a 750-horsepower setting on the tapered spacer, and a new tire from Goodyear. This package will also be used at Bristol, Martinsville, New Hampshire, Dover, Richmond, and all three road courses. Race time is 12:30 p.m. PST on FOX.
After last Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, NASCAR took over the track for the third on-track evaluation of the Next Gen car, with William Byron the designated driver. The car to be tested is the “P3” prototype, said to be 99% of what is expected to be delivered to the teams by midsummer. The latest iteration incorporates features that make the Next Gen car easier to work on from a mechanic’s viewpoint. It also uses a six-speed sequential transmission and 18” wheels with a center-locking hub, replacing the old 15” wheel with five lug nuts. This should reduce the incident of lug nut penalties after a race, because if the hub isn’t locked the wheel won’t stay on the car. Tests indicate that because the single wheel nut requires more torque than the current lug nuts, pit stop times will not be significantly reduced. New underbody components were also added for the Auto Club test as NASCAR continues to tweak the aerodynamic properties of the new car.
Both Byron and crew chief Chad Knaus were happy with the car’s performance during the test, despite Byron losing the handle early in a 25-lap tire test run the first day. Byron said that the new larger wheel and shorter tire sidewall gave different indications of losing traction than the current wheel/tire combination, but that’s why NASCAR tests. He also thought the new sequential gearbox would help with restarts and would be especially useful on road courses. Knaus was thrilled about the new car, using terms like “really cool” and “spectacular.”
The test encompassed almost 300 miles of running, and NASCAR gathered a lot of data, including from the Incident Data Recorder and a high-speed video camera. The data from the test, as well as the car itself, will be thoroughly evaluated in preparation for the additional four tests scheduled in the coming months.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to add uncertainty to the 2020 Formula 1 schedule. Australia next weekend appears to be on, but authorities in that country will require extra screening of individuals from certain countries including Italy. This could cause issues for Ferrari and teams using Ferrari power units as well as personnel from tire supplier Pirelli. The Chinese Grand Prix has already been postponed with no new date set, and Vietnam is being closely monitored. There may also be an issue with Bahrain, which has announced a ban on individuals who have been in Italy and a number of other countries within 14 days. The MotoGP series has already canceled their scheduled Qatar race due to the government there imposing immediate 14-day quarantine of personnel arriving from Italy. Ross Brawn, F1 managing director of motorsport, has said if all teams can’t take part, a race cannot be a world championship event. And as the season wears on and possible bans on large gatherings or trepidation from fans affect attendance, it could turn out to be a disastrous season for the F1 organization and promoters alike.