NASCAR Exec Talks Electric, Hydrogen Powertrains With On-Track Testing Next Year

It's the most divisive topic amongst stock car fans, but a decision has to be made sometime. This is where NASCAR stands right now.
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People want to know when NASCAR will introduce electrification, albeit for different reasons. Some see it as the logical and necessary next step for stock car racing to stay relevant, while others would rather skip it altogether. NASCAR COO Steve O’Donnell isn’t appealing to one side or the other, but during the season’s final race weekend at Phoenix, he explained that multiple options are on the table for 2024. What’s more, we’ll be seeing these new powertrain solutions testing on-track next year.

“I think we’re taking a really holistic approach across all of our series,” O’Donnell told Forbes during Friday’s state of the sport address. “It’s not just electrification. We are still moving forward with our existing OEMs to look at putting a car together, how does that look, what is the entertainment value around that, what’s the raceability. Those plans are moving forward.”

So, if it’s not just electrification, then what else is there? Hydrogen is a potential answer for NASCAR, according to O’Donnell. It seems more likely that H2 would be used for combustion rather than in a fuel-cell setup, as it can provide the same type of noise and, therefore, entertainment as gasoline with nearly negligible carbon emissions. Toyota, one of NASCAR’s existing three manufacturers, has already proved this with a prototype Yaris rally car that sounds almost normal and only spits water out of its tailpipe.

Talks of an electric NASCAR exhibition series took place in May of this year. O’Donnell’s comments now are consistent with the ones he made then, particularly when he says NASCAR wants to offer almost everything for everyone.

“The good news for NASCAR is we’re positioned really, really well across all three of our national series platforms,” O’Donnell said at Phoenix. “You also have IMSA. The ideal world for NASCAR is you can show up at a racetrack and you can see any form of motorsports you want, any type of power, electric, hydrogen. You want to see some loud engines going out there, that’s NASCAR, too.”

“I think as soon as next year you’ll start to see some things in terms of development, in terms of on track,” O’Donnell concluded. “Still targeting ’24. You’ll see us do a lot of different things during next year also.”

The Next Gen Cup Series car just completed its first season that, while not without its struggles, showed what NASCAR looks like with a more modern racer. Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports will even race one at the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans, proving that NASCAR wants to expand its reach beyond the domestic audience. Electrification will almost certainly be a part of that vision in time, but for now, it’s probably wise to hold your horses.

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