NASCAR Cup Series drivers are working the sequential shifter again this weekend during their first visit to World Wide Technology Raceway.
“I think [the] idea going into it [is] that we’ll shift twice in [Turns] 1 and 2 and then once in [Turns] 3 and 4, but we won’t know until we get to practice,” Stewart-Haas Racing driver Cole Custer said. “It’s more of a pain than anything, to be completely honest.
“Doing one shift and everything that’s all fine, but having to do two is a little bit more, but that’s why we’re paid the big bucks, I guess. As race car drivers, we’re always looking for a little advantage over everybody, so I think having that shifting there…hopefully we can figure out how to use that to our advantage.”
Shifting on ovals has been one of the new variables in racing with the introduction of the Next Gen car because teams now have one extra gear (five). It gives NASCAR and the teams more options to tweak the transaxle, and at racetracks with higher RPMs entering the corners and then a slower corner speed, it lends itself to downshifting.
“I don’t want to speak for everybody, but for me, I think at places like Gateway, Darlington, Pocono — it’s going to be really hard to make it to where we don’t shift at those places,” said Custer. “I mean, it’s probably going to be a thing that’s part of the racing now, but I think when you look at Martinsville and the traditional tracks that we don’t shift at, it doesn’t help the racing to have the shifting.
“It makes it a little bit more busy as a driver at times…but I don’t think it helps the racing when you can kind of grab a gear and accelerate off the corner. Even if you make a little mistake, you can kind of makeup for it with the shift, so I think it’s something where going to the traditional tracks and not shifting would probably be better.”
Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports agrees with Custer on it affecting the quality of the racing, and WWTR would not be the first time drivers have had to shift this season — it was notable and quotable at Martinsville Speedway.
“I don’t think it helps the racing any,” Bowman said. “I think the thing that creates it is we’re running the same transaxle at most racetracks, so [during] the downshift to fourth you don’t gain a ton of RPMs, so it’s really easy to make that downshift. It’s a little more difficult to make the downshift to third. I think what it does for the racing is: a guy can miss the corner, not be back to the throttle very well, not pointed right, not in a good spot, and just downshift and get off the corner just fine. That just makes it harder to pass and harder to set up passes.
“We’re supposed to be the best at what we do and passing should be hard, but at the same time, I think shifting is a lot of what created Martinsville looking how it did. It’s just different, and I think we’ll all continue to develop it and get used to it, and it’ll change throughout the course of the year. But there’s definitely going to be a lot of shifting this weekend.”
Custer’s teammate at SHR, Kevin Harvick, doesn’t mind having to shift this weekend.
“I think it would be way worse if you didn’t shift,” Harvick said. “I think I ran my first race here in probably 1998 in the Truck Series. I remember shifting in the Busch Series car. That corner (Turn 1) is so tight…that you have to be able to have something to get it out because, otherwise, everyone just stomps the throttle and it doesn’t go anywhere because it isn’t turning any RPMs.”
Reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson doesn’t like shifting but doesn’t believe it will be the sole issue drivers face this weekend at a new track.
“I think it makes it tougher to pass because it keeps your pace up, it seems,” said Larson. “If lap times start slowing down, you start to downshift to go faster. I think we’ve all learned that you need pace fall-off to pass and now, with shifting, the pace doesn’t fall off quite as much, so it makes things a little tougher. These cars and the aerodynamics make things a little tougher as well, but we’ll see. I don’t know how this place will be this weekend.
“I think it’ll be hard to pass whether we’ll be shifting or not. I think it’s just a pretty flat, looks-like-high-grip style racetrack, so those are typically hard to pass. With shifting, who knows? Regardless, I think it’ll be difficult to pass anyways.”