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Kevin Harvick also wants NASCAR to increase horsepower to aid short tracks

NASCAR: Cup Practice & Qualifying

Add recently retired Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick to the long list of industry notables that just hope to see a NASCAR horsepower increase tested in advance of next season.

Denny Hamlin
Dale Earnhardt Jr
A lot of other people

It has been discussed and written about extensively but drivers both past and present are advocating for an increase in horsepower for the NextGen car before its third season in 2024. On one hand, the racing on the intermediate style tracks have arguably never been better but the racing on short tracks have objectively never been worse.

The reasons, again, have been detailed ad nauseam between the current horsepower target of 650, a gear ratio with the current transaxle that allows for downshifting on corner exit, a sealed underbody, a larger brake package and tires with a wider contact patch.

Kyle Busch says rip the underbody off on short tracks while other drivers have debated the merits.

There is a lot working against the shortest tracks on the schedule but so many have said more horsepower would go a long way if NASCAR would just be willing to try. Instead, NASCAR has worked with Goodyear to improve tire compounds alongside a variety of aerodynamic experiments to mixed success.

Harvick, speaking to Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Dale Jr Download podcast, also pushed for the horsepower lever to be pulled during winter testing over the next month or so.

“The tire is definitely (part of the solution) but I think a lot of times, what happened, is we go softer on the tire and it goes longer and last(ed) longer,” Harvick said. “So that confuses everyone that we went softer, put more heat in it, went faster and fell off less.

“So, I think everyone wants to go back to the drawing board and take bigger swings at it. I think they need to. The only thing that concerns me, and you’ve heard me say this before, but I don’t think there’s enough power in the race car.”

The pushback from the sanctioning body is that the horsepower reductions from 2016 to 2019 were about cost containment and the pursuit of new manufacturers.

Harvick is resolute on the matter.

“Listen, I get it, there’s way more to it than saying we need more horsepower,” Harvick said. “There’s the master plan to bring (in) more manufacturers but if this race car would blow the back tire off and you had to think about putting the throttle sown, it would change the racing and the way tires wear and it would change so much.”

Harvick recounted the story of the first full-field tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the NextGen car in November 2021. It was objectively a disaster. The drivers and NASCAR were not seeing eye-to-eye about the direction of the platform.

Crew chiefs, engineers and mechanics felt frustrated.

NASCAR canceled a test at Phoenix, instead choosing to come back to Charlotte for a follow-up session but only after the industry agreed during Champions Week at Nashville to come back with a horsepower increase and that’s how the car landed at its base target of 650.

The original plan was 550 or less after three years of running a 550-horsepower tapered spacer in the previous generation car.

“When we went to this new style car, where we went to Charlotte to test it and we were out of ideas and (NASCAR) was like ‘do whatever you want’ so we went to (Ford engine builder) Doug Yates and got an intake spacer that was more than the 550 horsepower that they wanted us to run and we put 750 in it and immediately we went a second and a half faster on the scoring monitor,” Harvick said. “That’s how we ended up with more power because we literally couldn’t drive behind someone without getting too tight and that problem has consistently been a problem.”

Even with the largely praised intermediate track racing with this car, the a trailing driver still struggles to trail behind a leader but intermediate tracks marginalize the issue because they are wide enough to allow for a trailing car to find speed elsewhere.

That isn’t the case on narrow single-lane short tracks.

“I think they’re going to take big swipes at the tire, the whole package in general,” Harvick said of NASCAR this winter. “But in my opinion, I don’t think they’re going to be able to fix it until they’re driving faster into the corner and slower in the middle of the corner.”

During the state of the sport press conference during championship weekend at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR chief operating officer Steve O’Donnell said they were open to increasing horsepower but also said they were more interested in pursuing options related to the tire and aerodynamics.

Harvick is adamant the lower horsepower hasn’t saved teams money nor has it helped the racing product.

“We (used to get) out of the car and they were making 1000 horsepower and today they make 750, mufflers on them, less,” Harvick said to Earnhardt. “Since we had the first test with the 550 horsepower engine, the cars have become more aero sensitive but if they were way too fast in the corner, you’d have to get way off the gas and do all the things you used to do with the car on entry and with the grip level.

“I wish they would just try it but I know it’s a big undertaking.”

Harvick isn’t sure, with the current transaxle, that they can remove shifting from the dynamic. That is one of the items NASCAR will test next month during a test at Phoenix.

“Shifting is tough and when you add the fifth gear, it made it possible because the ratios were closer, but I don’t know if you can take it away because if you did, (there would) just be no power off. Then it would be even worse. So now you’re caught in a weird spot.

“I think the engine rev limit, per the rule book, is 8900 right now but the way the technology and the parts, I don’t think higher horsepower would be a big issue with the manufacturers.

“Maybe we’d take a step back on having engine issues, but if a few engines broke here and there, who cares, right?”

Earnhardt agreed with that assertion too.

“I don’t want to break motors but I do want them pushed to the limits,” Earnhardt said. “I want drivers to get out of the car and say they had nothing left, that the engine and tire had nothing left.”

Harvick says a horsepower increase would not change the economics of the sport in any tangible way.

“The engine bills didn’t go down,” Harvick said. “You can attest to that. Because now we’re looking for one horsepower and looking for one is way more expensive than looking for 10 when you’re in the sort of window that we’re in.

“It’s not really cost effective to take power out because we spend more to find that one gain.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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