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NASCAR to debut EV concept car during The Clash

The series is actually more invested in alternative fuels

A prototype electric race car developed by NASCAR will make its official debut next weekend as part of the festivities surrounding the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  

The car, which has an unbranded crossover body, has been privately tested twice in advance of being unveiled to the masses in Southern California. It was first straight-line tested over the summer at zMax Dragway at Charlotte Motor Speedway and was circle track tested in December at Martinsville Speedway.

The car, which was leaked publicly last month, now has lights and apparently has the potential to reach speeds in line with the current NASCAR Cup Series platform at Martinsville.

Specifically, the car was subjected to 340 laps over three days at the half-mile short track in southern Virginia. David Ragan drove it. NASCAR says the optimal performance range of the battery isn’t 100 percent but has a sweet spot of 30 to 80 percent and that it was generally operated at 50 percent.

By the end of the test, NASCAR says the prototype was within ‘a few tenths’ of the current Cup Series car, which shares the same base chassis and platform beneath its shell.

NASCAR officials have been adamant since this car was made public over the fall that it wasn’t a harbinger of a soon-to-come division but is entirely a concept car. It’s purely a way for NASCAR to make an effort to stay on top of emerging technologies in a rapidly changing landscape in Detroit and abroad.

Of all the new technologies that NASCAR is exploring, the sanctioning body is actually most invested in hydrogen or other alternative fuels, as it actually wants cars to continue to sound like something reflective of its heritage.

It’s also showcasing a single car in the hopes it has the same impact that a single car had in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last summer according to NASCAR Vice President of Vehicle Design Brandon Thomas.

“The one thing Garage56 showed us is that we can make a pretty big splash with just one car,” said Thomas during NASCAR’s annual media briefing at its R&D facility in North Carolina. “One day, I hope we have a hydrogen combustion version of this.

“When you look out a few years from now, the idea is for us to be flexible and ready to react to what our fans want to see and what our partners want to see. It’s not always the same thing but for us, we want to have a coupe, a (crossover) and a truck as a platform with sustainable fuels and combustion.”

NASCAR wants to have a flexible next generation concept car that could grow into any number of future powerplants, depending on what direction the car industry moves towards.

“The NextGen car does project to have hybrid style power but we’ve elected not to implement that to date,” Thomas said. “But it also has the ability to adopt full battery electric, and aspirational down the road, more hydrogen combustion so that when the time comes, and someone says, this is the car of the future, we don’t have to pull out the pencil and design it. We’ll already have it.

“This car is to be prepared for the future. We’re not sitting here today and announcing a bunch of cars for a racing series. Think of this as a concept car.”

A misperception about NASCAR exploring all these alternative power plant options, is that it wants cars to be silent in the future, something that more audibly resembles Formula E and Thomas says that isn’t the case at all.

“A lot of our partners are more and more looking at hydrogen-based solutions,” Thomas said. “Certainly, for us, the sound of the engines when you throw the green flag … if you love this stuff, you think about it, and you get goosebumps when our cars come to life when they throw the green flag. It’s very appealing to keep that.”

A group of NASCAR executives took a field trip to Japan in November to watch hydrogen combustion race cars to get a point of reference.

“I can say that watching a hydrogen combustion car running an endurance race in Japan sounds like an engine,” Thomas said. “So that was certainly appealing from that perspective. It would be cool as well to get back to leading edge of technology at some point too.”

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

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