More than anything else, economic conditions will determine whether NASCAR introduces a new race car to the Nationwide Series in 2010, as is currently planned, but series director Joe Balash says the sanctioning body must continue to act on the assumption that NASCAR's Triple-A league will have a new race car after the upcoming season.
“All of our development work is still going forward,” Balash said after the completion of the 2008 season. “We have an engineering process and a timeline that we're still working on. We have to be prepared to launch the new car, as we have expected, for 2010.
“Now, we'll still work with the owners to make sure it's the right thing to do business-wise, but we have to be prepared to (introduce the car). So we're still working through our processes - the wind-tunnel approvals, that type of thing - to have that new car ready.”
Reservations by Nationwide Series owners helped persuade NASCAR to push back its introduction of the car beyond 2009. Though the purpose is to produce a safer, more cost-efficient car, the expense of conversion from one car to another is significant, as owners discovered during the changeover to the new race car in the Sprint Cup Series.
Add to that a challenging economy in which sponsorships are more difficult to obtain, and the decision to put the new car on hold at least until 2010 makes sense.
NASCAR's ban on testing in 2009, a cost-saving measure that prohibits teams from testing on tracks that host events in any of NASCAR's top four touring series, would only add to the hardship of debuting the new car in August 2009, as NASCAR had planned to do before the economy weakened.
“We were actually going to expand our testing programme for Nationwide teams, but when we saw changes happen (in the economy), we had to react,” Balash said. “We'll do the same thing next year. It's way too early to tell what's going to happen in February, let alone by the time we get to January of 2010.”
When it is introduced, NASCAR's new Nationwide car will look and drive differently from the new race car that debuted in the Cup series in 2007 and became the full-time car in 2008. The Nationwide car will feature a more traditional spoiler instead of a rear wing and a spring front suspension instead of bump stops.
New car or old car, the competition isn't likely to suffer. The Nationwide Series produced some of NASCAR's best side-by-side racing last season, not to mention a championship battle that arrived at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the title still in the balance. Ultimately, Clint Bowyer held off defending champion Carl Edwards.
Balash was encouraged by car counts for Nationwide races late in the season.
“If we look at the season, we ended with high car counts at the end of the year,” he said. “The last four or five races had 50-plus cars (qualifying for a field of 43) in the events. I think a lot of that will carry through into 2009.”
by Reid Spencer / Sporting News