2018 rules updates: ‘Stabilization mode’ entering new season

With a series of larger-scale enhancements in recent years — the additions of stage racing and major modifications to the postseason format — the theme to 2018’s rules update from the NASCAR Research & Development Center relies on a defter touch.

Advancements in inspection technology, a streamlined system for pit stops and standardized at-track personnel sizes and the introduction of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series are among the highlights in this year’s update. Other changes governing car specifications and improving safety are numerous but more subtle, an evolution of the updates that have preceded them.

“The past couple years, we’ve had quite a few changes, so in this year, we’re kind of heading more into a stabilization mode,” said Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Senior Vice President for Innovation and Racing Development. “We’re pretty happy with the racing that we have on the track.”

FIRST LOOK: 2018 inspection process

In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the most noticeable vehicle change will be the introduction of the Camaro ZLI, which replaces the outgoing Chevrolet SS model. The new Chevy made a splashy debut in Detroit last August and will get its first taste of competition later this month at Daytona.

For Stefanyshyn, it’s a project with personal roots that span back to his time as an executive with General Motors.

“It does pull a bit at my heartstrings because I was responsible for the 2010 Camaro, which had been in hiatus for five years,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to run that project and put it back on the street. It’s very good to see the evolution of it.”

The recent trend of reducing vehicle downforce will continue, but without altering spoiler heights. The aerodynamic shifts will be achieved through use of a common splitter and radiator oil cooler, which Stefanyshyn says will drop downforce by approximately 225 pounds (185 in the front, 40 rear) to a level of 1,650 pounds.

RELATED: Chevrolet unveils Camaro ZL1

But the body changes have also extended to the realm of safety, with a superspeedway liftoff reduction to keep vehicles in all three national series from becoming airborne at NASCAR’s fastest tracks. The latest adjustments have added an estimated 30 mph to the liftoff threshold, Stefanyshyn says, in an effort to help reduce rollovers.

Other safety enhancements currently in development include a high-speed on-board camera designed to pair with Incident Data Recorders (IDR, or “black box”) to aid crash investigations. When the data recorder is tripped by a crash impact, the camera will also engage, capturing footage of the driver’s movement in the accident and providing another reference point for competition officials.

“This is going to be a very, very powerful tool,” Stefanyshyn says, indicating that the system is projected to be in place a third of the way through the season. “We have about 10 years of incident data recording. We have a very robust database that we use to continue to learn and improve. This will just be the next installment of analytical capability, which will allow us to be very precise and move very quickly.”

Changes are also in store for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, which will enter a transitional year for the new flange-fit composite bodies ahead of a full 2019 rollout. The series will also make improvements in the area of superspeedway bump-drafting, using a lower front fascia at Daytona and Talladega. The goal of mismatched front and rear bumper heights is to deter teams from locking on in the aerodynamic draft, a practice that’s currently officiated from race control.

The Xfinity tour will also expand the use of the aerodynamic package that debuted last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to largely positive reviews. That package — which utilized a taller rear spoiler, a restrictor plate and aero ducts to reduce the advantage of a leading car in ‘clean’ air — will also be used at Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway this season.

For the Camping World Truck Series, the most impactful change is under the hood with the introduction of the optional NT1 engine. The Ilmor-produced powerplant, Stefanyshyn says, is intended to reduce engine development costs in the sport’s entry-level national series.

Other highlights of the 2018 NASCAR national series rules update, with some moves previously announced:

NASCAR will reduce the number of over-the-wall crew members from six to five for pit stops. The move will push teams to find new, creative ways to execute pit service.

NASCAR will move to a standardized team roster for at-track personnel, helping to more clearly define the roles of teams’ support staff.

A new inspection station, developed in conjunction with Hawk-Eye innovations, will provide more comprehensive scans of vehicle bodies. The system will replace the former Laser Inspection System and several measurements previously done by templates.

Common pit guns will be in use for the 2018 season, in an effort to reduce the performance premium on equipment and place the emphasis on the pit crews’ athletic performance.

A new system for enforcing practice time penalties will be in effect for 2018. Instead of having car and driver sit idle on pit road, practice-time deductions will be enforced by covering the car in the garage. Practice holds will also be enforced at the end of practice sessions instead of the beginning.