NASCAR announces significant changes to 2015 rules package

With an eye toward enhancing competition, increasing safety, reducing costs, increasing product relevance and furthering its “green” initiatives, NASCAR has enacted significant rules changes not only to its competition package but also to the conduct of its national touring series teams.

The sanctioning body announced the changes, which go into effect for the 2015 season, on Tuesday afternoon.

On the competition side, the two most readily apparent differences between the 2014 and 2015 packages are a reduction in spoiler height from 8 inches to 6.0 inches and reduction of horsepower from roughly 850-900 to 725 through the use of a tapered spacer—a part already in use in the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

The spoiler modification will produce a decrease in downforce and should accentuate the relative talent and ability of the drivers.

The horsepower reduction will decrease the cars’ acceleration away from each other after a start or restart, thus decreasing the advantage of “clean air” and facilitating green-flag passing. The lower horsepower also will help reduce the sport’s carbon footprint.

NASCAR will provide and seal the tapered spacers, which will be used in Sprint Cup cars only at open-motor tracks. At the Daytona and Talladega superspeedways, restrictor plates will continue to be the means of reducing horsepower.

Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR senior vice president, innovation and racing development, said the horsepower reduction could offset an advantage gained by certain drivers through the decrease in spoiler height.

“You’ve got to look at it holistically,” Stefanyshyn said. “On one hand, you could say that the downforce reduction may help the more talented drivers.

“But then on the other hand, when you take power out, it probably helps the whole field.”

As to the conduct of competition, NASCAR has introduced a radical change to its testing policy, one that bans all independent, private testing on the part of NASCAR teams.

Accordingly, the four independent discretionary tests allowed this year at NASCAR tracks are no longer permitted. Nor will teams be allowed to test independently at non-NASCAR venues such as Nashville, Rockingham, Colorado Springs or the Virginia International Raceway road course, to name a few.

Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway in January has been canceled, a practical decision given that there will be no change to the superspeedway competition package this year.

Instead of discretionary testing, teams will be invited to participate in NASCAR-sponsored group tests or in Goodyear tire tests. Not only will the policy reduce costs for all teams, but it should also help shrink the performance gap between the powerhouse teams and those with more modest funding.

“It’s a lot of cost we can take out of the system that is perhaps not of the highest value-added,” Stefanyshyn said, pointing out that testing on tracks NASCAR doesn’t race on with tires NASCAR doesn’t use may not be the most beneficial allocation of resources.

“And how do we take those resources and deploy them in a better way to do better testing and also to take us into the future?”

In policing the new testing ban, NASCAR will levy the harshest possible penalties on those who violate it.

“The recommendation was to lay down a very severe penalty, and so it will be a P6 (the highest category of violation under NASCAR’s penalty system),” Stefanyshyn said. “A P6 penalty with a substantial financial hardship attached to it in the event somebody does decide to break the policy.

“We’re not going to hire a bunch of spies to travel around with all the teams, but I think in some regard, it will be self-policing. Teams don’t want to be at a disadvantage, so they’ll tell us if somebody is doing something inappropriate.”

On the track next year, fans will see a more streamlined qualifying format, and they will see—for the first time—group qualifying for the Daytona 500.

At Daytona, however, group qualifying will determine only the front row for the Daytona 500, as traditionally has been the case on pole day, as well as the starting positions for the Budweiser Duels at Daytona.

Another change at road courses next year will be immediately noticeable. NASCAR is mandating the use of wipers, defoggers and rear-flashing rain lights. Goodyear will supply rain tires for those venues, currently Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

Yes, that means that, for the first time, Sprint Cup will take the green flag at road courses at the appointed time, even if it’s raining.

Those are just some of the more obvious enhancements for next year. NASCAR has made roughly 60 changes and updates for 2015. Some of the most notable include:

• Lower rear differential gear ratios targeting 9,000 rpm.
• Optional driver-adjustable track bar.
• 38-inch-wide radiator pan.
• Roller valve lifters replacing flat valve lifters (a potential cost saving).
• An optional electronic cluster (digital dashboard) in the cockpit of the race car, increasing the information available to the driver.

Through the digital dash, NASCAR will be able to communicate to the driver, for example, the instant caution is called, as well as the driver’s position in the running order for a restart. The long-term trend is toward enhanced data acquisition, Stefanyshyn said, but not at the expense of the driver behind the wheel.

“We always want the driver to drive the car,” Stefanyshyn said. “We will be collecting data and harvesting data, not to be able to send to some central command station to tell the driver what to do with his car.

“We’ll be harvesting and collecting data to officiate better, to inform our fans and provide them with a richer experience. One of my future goals would be, if we have an incident on the track, and we have a device connected to the driver, when you turn on the incident data recorder, that goes to NASCAR Medical, and they know instantaneously which car to go to first if we have an issue.”

For 2015, the weight of the Gen-6 Sprint Cup car has been reduced by 50 pounds to 3,250 pounds (without driver) through ballast reduction. (Typically, ballast has been added through the use of tungsten blocks, which also serve to lower the center of gravity of the car).

In conjunction with the overall weight reduction, NASCAR has reduced the minimum weight requirement for the right side of the car from 1,620 to 1,595 pounds.

NASCAR also will institute new officiating procedures for 2015, including a data log and capture system for pre-race inspections. The sanctioning body is automating its pit road officiating through the use of real-time video and is revising its process for inspecting tire inflation pressures.

As cars progress through the inspection process, NASCAR officials will have access to an electronic “rap sheet” listing past violations from a particular team.

“Our inspectors, currently when they inspect the cars, they have cards and pencils, and they write stuff down,” Stefanyshyn said. “At the end of the race, these cards get put in a box and they get stored somewhere. “What we’ve now done is we’ve equipped our inspectors with a surface tablet and a stylus.

“As a car comes through, they pull up the car and they electronically log everything in there, so we’ll have it all in one place. So when he pulls up that car, he’ll have the history of where that car has had infractions in the last six months.

“And he also has access to the electronic rule book, so if he has a question, he’ll have the electronic rule book and the parts approval process right there real-time on line, and he’s recording all the car’s infractions and all the inspection stuff, and we can pull it up.”