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'Call Jim France and Ask', Says Hamlin as New Short Track Package Reignites Horsepower Discussion

After NASCAR's new aero package received mixed reviews, the age-old horsepower discussion was reignited in a major way this past weekend at Phoenix, drawing some riveting comments from NASCAR Cup Series veteran Denny Hamlin.


hero image for 'Call Jim France and Ask', Says Hamlin as New Short Track Package Reignites Horsepower Discussion

Over the last half-decade, since the original implementation of the 550-horsepower package for 2019, the NASCAR Cup Series has been facing an ongoing power struggle... literally.

Throughout the final years of using the sixth-generation racecar, and during the development of the seventh - now commonly known as the NextGen car -- people from all over the industry have been lobbying for a horsepower increase.

That lobbying worked initially, when NASCAR elected to set the baseline package for the seventh-generation racecar at 670 horsepower ahead of the 2022 season -- rather than the 550 horsepower package the sanctioning body had previously decided on.

NASCAR has since remained firm at 670hp but hasn't shied away from tweaking the car's aerodynamics, in an attempt to improve the on-track product in short-track and road-course races.

That brings us to last weekend at Phoenix, the debut of NASCAR's updated short-track package featuring a simplified diffuser and three-inch rear spoiler. After Friday's extended practice, the reviews were overwhelmingly not positive.

Therein lies the factor that opened the proverbial can of worms, with questions immediately surfacing about ways in which the aerodynamic package -- which of course, included specific mention of a horsepower increase, and how easy of a fix it could end up being.

"You just call Doug Yates and TRD and say we're going to go back to the 750 plates. It can be done before next weekend, and they said it won't change the durability they've got," said Denny Hamlin. "So it can be done with one phone call and no additional money."

The idea behind adding horsepower to the NASCAR Cup Series engine package is to increase the total amount of off-throttle time in one lap, which Hamlin says will aid drivers in making on-track passes.

"It's hard to pass because we're all in the gas so much, so you have to get us out of the gas, either through the tire or the horsepower," Hamlin added on Saturday. "That combination is what makes passing so difficult, so the more you can get us out of the gas - which means if we have more horsepower we get out of the gas sooner - that gives the opportunity to overtake for the car that is behind."

"So, 50-horsepower, while it may not be a gamechanger, any horsepower gain from here on out would be an advantage to passing."

Now, if that's truly the case, and engine builders would be able to increase horsepower without any reliability or cost concerns, and it would make the racing better, then why hasn't NASCAR pulled that trigger, yet?

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"I will tell you the same thing I told Dustin Long [on Saturday], call Jim France and ask, I don't know, I don't have the answers for that,"

Denny Hamlin, Monday on Actions Detrimental

As his response Saturday, and then again on Monday, suggests, the NASCAR Cup Series veteran is befuddled about why a change isn't being made -- and the unwillingness for it to even be tested.

"This is the first thing when it comes to horsepower, it's the first thing that I've not seen NASCAR react to the media about," Hamlin added. "Usually, they react to everything, when something is hot media-wise, they react to it, this is one thing they have dug their heels into the ground and said 'nope'. So, there is clearly a reason that is not being explained to the people, or the drivers of why we are where we are."

As far as talking behind closed doors about increasing horsepower, Hamlin suggests that there aren't many, if any, conversations of a productive nature happening on the subject, with lines of questioning on the subject usually ending with a non-answer.

"We have competition updates with NASCAR all the time, and every time someone says 'Why not horsepower?'," Hamlin recalled. "I can't even give you the answer - I don't recall what they even said, because what they said wasn't an answer. I think we need to know what is keeping you from this.

But, in the meantime, the lobbying is likely to continue, if not directly from drivers and industry personnel, definitely from the fanbase, whose outcries for more horsepower have consistently echoed throughout social media for the last five years, and continue to do so in the wake of NASCAR's new short track package.

Hamlin, a 51-time NASCAR Cup Series winner, isn't knocking down doors for a horsepower change, but would at least like the sanctioning body to be more open to the idea, to the point where it's put on the docket for a test session.

"I understand what the people want. I understand what NASCAR wants. I just wish we could meet in the middle somewhere. We don't need 900 horsepower back. It would be nice, but those days are gone in the near term," added the co-owner of 23XI Racing. "I would certainly like to see them just try it at a test - I mean, we know what it's going to do, and it certainly would put the driver skill more as a showcase."

"If we want to create stars, stars are the ones that are good week-in and week-out, the Kyle Larson's of the world, the Ryan Blaney's of the world, the Christopher Bell's of the world, they just find ways week-in and week-out to win and be competitive because they're just better drivers, so we want to highlight their skills, not their track position."

Despite all of the clear benefits that an increase in horsepower could provide, the sanctioning body is seemingly unwilling to pull that trigger, for reasons that according to Hamlin, have not been outlined to those on the inside.

The pursuit of a fourth manufacturer has been a talking point among NASCAR executives for several years, and even in the present day, is the given reason behind a lack of change in the horsepower numbers.

Brad Moran, Managing Director of the NASCAR Cup Series, extended that same sentiment on Tuesday while speaking to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, providing the point-of-view of the sanctioning body on the hot-button topic.

"Once we open up the horsepower, we have to have all three manufacturers on board," he said. "As soon as you open that up, there's going to be development, there's going to be reliability issues and putting that cost back into the engine builder’s category, where they certainly will develop the engine. As soon you open any horsepower, they’re automatically going to do that. They’re the best at it, and that’s what they do."

“The number we’re at seems to be where we want to be to potentially get new manufacturers interested. And if we start getting away from that number, it can create problems in that area. But we’re always open to everything and we do consider everything, but there’s a lot of different parties that have to agree before that can happen.”

For the time being, NASCAR's focus is currently set more on trying to tweak its brand-new short track package and find a competent tire compound to flatter it, rather than making a major wholesale change like cranking up the horsepower.

NASCAR Cup Series drivers and teams will get their second test of the new aerodynamic package in two weeks at Circuit of The Americas (COTA), the first road course race of the season, before heading to Richmond Raceway at the end of this month for the package's third overall appearance of 2024.

Photo Credit: John K Harrelson, LAT Images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing

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