October 3, 2022

NASCAR Cup Series drivers are working on the sequential shifter again this weekend on their first visit to World Wide Technology Raceway.

“I think [the] idea to go inside [is] that we will change twice in [Turns] 1 and 2 then once in [Turns] 3 and 4, but we won’t know until we get to practice,” said Stewart-Haas Racing driver Cole Custer. “It’s more of a pain than anything, to be quite honest.

“Doing one shift and all is good, but having to do two is a bit more, but that’s why we get paid a lot of money, I guess. As race car drivers, we’re always looking for a little edge over everyone else, so I think that change there…hopefully we can figure out how to use it to our advantage.

Shifting on ovals has been one of the new racing variables with the introduction of the Next Gen car, as teams now have an extra gear (five). This gives NASCAR and teams more options to modify the transaxle, and on circuits with higher rpm entering corners and then slower cornering speed, it lends itself to downshifting.

“I don’t want to speak for everyone, but for me, I think in places like Gateway, Darlington, Pocono – it’s going to be really hard to get to where we’re not moving in those places,” said Custer. “I mean, it’s probably going to be part of the race now, but I think when you look at Martinsville and the traditional tracks where we don’t change, it doesn’t help the race to have the change.

“It sometimes makes the driver a bit busier…but I don’t think it helps the race when you can kind of pick up a gear and accelerate into the corner. Even if you make a little mistake, you can kind of help it. catch up with the shifting, so I think that’s something to go on traditional tracks and not shifting would probably be better.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman agrees with Custer that this affects the quality of racing, and WWTR wouldn’t be the first time drivers had to change gears this season – it was noticeable and quotable at Martinsville Speedway .

“I don’t think it helps the race,” Bowman said. “I think what creates it is that we use the same transaxle at most racetracks, so [during] downshifting to fourth you don’t gain a ton of RPM, so it’s very easy to downshift. It’s a little harder to downshift to third. I think what it does for racing is: a guy can miss the turn, not get back on the throttle very well, pointing off to the right, not in the right place, and just downshifting and coming out of the turn very good. It just makes it harder to pass and harder to set up passes.

“We’re supposed to be the best at what we do and overtaking should be tough, but at the same time I think the shifting is a big part of what created Martinsville looking at how it went. It’s just different, and I think we’ll all continue to develop it and get used to it, and it will change throughout the year. But there are definitely going to be a lot of changes this weekend.

Custer’s teammate at SHR, Kevin Harvick, doesn’t mind having to switch positions this weekend.

“I think it would be a lot worse if you didn’t shift gears,” Harvick said. “I think I ran my first race here in 1998 probably in the Truck series. I remember changing gears in the Busch series car. This corner (turn 1) is so tight…you have to be able to have something to pull it out because otherwise everyone just hits the throttle and it’s not going anywhere because it’s not revving.

Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson doesn’t like shifting but doesn’t think that will be the only problem the drivers will face this weekend at a new track.

“I think it makes it harder to pass because it keeps your pace it seems,” Larson said. “If the lap times start to slow down, you start downshifting to go faster. I think we’ve all learned that you need a drop in pace to pass and now with the shifting the pace doesn’t drop as much so that makes it a bit more difficult. These cars and the aerodynamics make things a bit trickier as well, but we’ll see. I don’t know how this place will be this weekend.

“I think it will be difficult to pass whether we are going to change or not. I think it’s just a fairly flat racing track, feels like high grip, so it’s generally hard to pass. With displacement, who knows? Anyway, I think it will be difficult to pass anyway.