NASCAR more electric vehicles is an equation that is considered sacrilege for much of the fan base. After all, electric motors are practically the antithesis of loud, roaring stock-car V8 engines and the smell of gasoline that permeates oval tracks across America.
But as times change and the world begins to look for alternatives to internal combustion and fossil fuels, it only made sense for NASCAR to start doing the same and beyond. The sanctioning body enters a new era with the launch of the Cup Series‘ Next generation car in 2022 and increased schedule diversity with road courses and even a street circuit in Chicago slated for 2023 competition. Such shifts in the sport’s image, perhaps unfathomable as recently as the turn of the decade , seem to be continuing full steam ahead amid thoughts of a possible exhibition series using electric cars in 2023 or even a reimagining of the Xfinity Series use SUVs. Leaks of the former have been circulating on social media ahead of Jerry Jordan’s Kick in the tires presented them in a report on Thursday. While NASCAR remained vague when asked about its veracity, KTT suggested that the official appearance and past rumors of electrification provide reason enough not to turn a blind eye.
The leak describes plans to field twelve electric cars (three or four per manufacturer) in support of the Cup Series at six events starting with a demonstration at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseumwhich hosts the Busch shock on February 5, 2023 and another chapter of NASCAR’s “new and radical” philosophy. The vehicle would use the Next Gen car platform, built on its chassis with modifications to the front/rear clips to accommodate electrical components such as the powertrain and battery, and intended to perform identically to their ICE counterparts. . Although the Next Gen is being considered as a base, the document notes that the bodywork could be modeled after SUVs or crossovers depending on the manufacturer. The Next Gen car already has hybrid capability as its transaxle unifies the transmission and rear gear to make such a switch viable.
Austrian rallycross operation STAR would provide the 1,000hp electric powertrains for the cars. In 2020, STARD partnered with Ford Performance (a NASCAR manufacturer) to develop the Fiesta ERX2 as part of the FIA World Rallycross Championship’s ongoing transition to fully electric cars. Ford Performance Director Marc Rushbrook had speculated in 2019 on NASCAR hybridization by introducing a KERS-like system to complement the ICE engines.
Each demo race would last just thirty minutes, with pit stops strictly reserved for car repairs and tire supplies; battery swaps, let alone drivers changing cars like in the early years of Formula E, are not pictured.
Before everyone started lamenting the “death of the Cup Series” or tagging Elon Musk on Twitter to convince him to bring in Tesla (the latter pictured in the featured image of this article, taken from a April Fool’s Day 2013 prank by Edmunds), the exhibition is not intended to replace any of the existing series, and success would likely result in a new championship instead. Such a strategy was adopted in 1994 when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series held seven demo events before kicking off the inaugural season a year later.
On the subject of SUVs, the idea of replacing them with the current Xfinity cars was brought to light by Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the July 14 episode of Download Dale Jr.. While explaining the ongoing identity crisis of NASCAR’s second tier as it is sandwiched between Cup Series sedans and Truck Series pickups, especially in relation to manufacturers, he said he “I heard NASCAR throw this idea out” for SUVs. The remark drew a surprised reaction from his co-hosts, followed by jokes about the SUV’s features as a “rear entertainment center for kids” before Earnhardt jokes, he “will not have a store full of SUV race cars.”
“[T]The Xfinity Series, Truck Series and Cup Series must matter to manufacturers,” Earnhardt said before the SUV speech. “The Truck series is important for manufacturers because they are trucks. Cup Series is the best series and they sell sedans so the Xfinity Series has kind of lost its purpose. What is its destination for manufacturers? The pony car thing was cool for a while, but manufacturers obviously aren’t married to selling pony cars every year. They can sell them regardless – you know, Camaro, Mustang or whatever – I don’t think the Xfinity series is having a huge impact on car sales in that market. There has to be a broader goal for manufacturers or a specific goal for manufacturers to want the Xfinity series to be there.
While one faction of fans consider the Xfinity series a better racing product than their Cup parents, some express displeasure that it is otherwise nearly redundant. The 2022 Xfinity schedule is identical to the Cup slate except for Portland while Chevrolet and Ford field the Camaro and Mustang respectively in the two divisions. While Xfinity serves as a level of development (hence its tagline “Names are made here”), it’s a far cry from the series’ early decades when standalone dates far from the top tier were plentiful. As such, if Earnhardt’s rumor turns out to be true (which it usually is for a current NBC analyst and longtime face in the industry), it might not be a stretch to seeing NASCAR lean into SUVs, especially as the vehicle piques consumer interest; such an approach was taken when the Truck series originated during the pickup truck boom of the 1990s.
Until then, of course, the Xfinity Series and ICE cars continue.