NASCAR drivers’ calls for more horsepower are falling on deaf ears

By | March 19, 2024

Debate over more horsepower divides drivers, NASCARIcon Sportswire – Getty Images

  • NASCAR drivers say an increase from 670 to more than 1,000 horsepower would significantly improve the on-track product.

  • NASCAR officials say increasing horsepower will be an expensive change that won’t dramatically improve competition and could even deter new manufacturers from entering the series.

  • Driver Kyle Larson thinks NASCAR’s “we consider everything” line to improve racing is largely hypocritical.

The very public horsepower debate raging between NASCAR officials and their Cup Series drivers has overshadowed almost everything else through the first five races of the year.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution as both sides seem to remain steadfast.

In this corner: drivers looking for more horsepower in their car. They say an increase from 670 to more than 1,000 would vastly improve the on-track product and help the sport regain the fans it has lost in recent years. Bristol, for example, once had consistent six-figure sell-outs. It was about half full for the recent 500 lap show.

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Kyle Larson leads the chorus of those calling for more horsepower for the NASCAR Cup Series cars.Icon Sportswire – Getty Images

In this corner: officials who say increasing horsepower will be an expensive change that won’t dramatically improve competition and could even deter new manufacturers — Honda, to be specific — from entering the series to take. Drivers wonder whether horsepower issues would prevent a new manufacturer from entering the market, as Toyota did in 2007.

That “getting in” reason doesn’t apply to 2021 champion Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports. “I feel like they’ve always used the excuse of ‘we’re trying to keep the horsepower that other manufacturers might want to come in,’” he said recently on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s popular show. Dirty Mo media podcast. “As long as I have been in the sport (ten years), it has been the same three manufacturers. Maybe someone else will come and maybe they’ll be the ones pushing for the horsepower, but I haven’t seen any new people come in yet.”

NASCAR official Brad Moran answered that question during his recent appearance on Sirius XM Radio. He said any change in horsepower would have a major ripple effect, potentially deterring new manufacturers as well. He also said he didn’t think the engine bill would be the same if the horsepower was increased, as some drivers want.

“Once we open up horsepower, all three manufacturers have to participate,” Moran explains. “Once you do that, there will be development and reliability issues, and you put those costs back into the engine builder’s category. The number we’re at now is where we want to be to get new manufacturers interested. And if we get rid of that number, it could cause problems. But we are always open to everything and take everything into account.”

Larson finds the “we consider everything” line largely hypocritical. “At least try,” said this year’s Las Vegas winner. “Just take us to – I don’t know – Richmond or wherever. Go test. Go to Martinsville. Go and test it and try it out.”

Former champion (2014) Kevin Harvick answered the horsepower question Happy hour podcast after Phoenix, where teams had a different aero package than those at the longer, faster tracks of Daytona Beach, Atlanta and Las Vegas.

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NASCAR COO Steve O’Donnell is careful not to take anything off the table that could improve racing.Meg Oliphant – Getty Images

“There were a lot of positives about the package in Phoenix,” Harvick said, “but I still think it should have more than 1,000 horsepower. For the life of me, I can’t understand why we want to keep spending millions and millions of dollars on CFD and wind tunnels, and changing parts and changing pieces. I don’t understand why we don’t want them to blow the rear tires off the car.”

During last year’s Championship Weekend in Phoenix, NASCAR’s chief operating officer, Steve O’Donnell, said “everything is up for consideration” when asked about increasing horsepower. “You also have to take into account the costs involved?” he said during his annual ‘State of the Sport’ message.

“It’s not as simple as just increasing horsepower,” he warned. “You better be prepared to have all your (manufacturers) on board. It makes better sense for each potential new manufacturer and technology. It is not just a short-term answer.”

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Denny Hamlin says “one phone call” can give the driver the power he wants.Icon Sportswire – Getty Images

Denny Hamlin, the second-winningest active Cup driver (52 after Bristol last weekend), shared his Actions harmful podcast audience that more horsepower would help improve racing. He asked NASCAR to at least test higher horsepower engines in an effort to settle the debate somewhat. So far, NASCAR has seemed unwilling to schedule testing as Hamlin and Larson have suggested.

Hamlin said the change could be accomplished with one phone call. “All you have to do is call Doug Yates (engine builder for Ford teams) and Toyota Racing Development and tell them we’re going back to our old 750hp badge,” he said. “They said it wouldn’t change the sustainability we have. It can be done with one phone call, without extra money.”

As for why he wants more horsepower: “It’s hard to pass because we’re all on the gas so much,” he said. “You have to take us off the gas, either by the tire or by the horsepower. That combination makes passing so difficult. The more you can take us off the gas, which means if we have more horsepower, we have to let go earlier, that gives us the opportunity to overtake. Fifty HP – while it may not be a game changer – any gain in HP will be an advantage if you succeed.

Michael McDowell – winner of the Daytona 500 and Indy Grand Prix – has a different opinion. “Every time cars go faster, the racing becomes separated,” he said in Bristol. “Look at the fastest cars in the world (F1), where the racing is not very good. Take a look at one of the slowest races in the world, the Mazda Miata MX 5, where it is one of the best races you have ever seen.

“So going faster won’t make the racing better. It will make it harder and more challenging and more fun for the drivers as we slide around and get lines out of corners. But there will be no more passes for the lead, no more cars on the lead lap, and the racing won’t get any better. I don’t think more horsepower would change racing much.”

Stay tuned. This won’t go away anytime soon.

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