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The NASCAR changes to look out for in 2024

Exciting new (and old) drivers, two fresh-shape cars, a manufacturer defection by a legend and a changed-up schedule means there's plenty of changes to keep up with as the NASCAR Cup season kicks off at the Daytona 500 this weekend

Jimmie Johnson, LEGACY MOTOR CLUB, Carvana Toyota Camry

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

The 2024 NASCAR Cup season has begun in earnest. Following the non-points exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum won by Denny Hamlin earlier this month, Joey Logano took pole for this weekend's Daytona 500 season opener by leading a Ford front-row lockout in qualifying on Wednesday night.

Thursday night’s twin 150-mile qualifying races will set the remainder of the grid, with Jimmie Johnson among the four unchartered drivers seeking to book the two remaining slots in the 40-car field for NASCAR's blue ribband on Sunday.

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Here are five things to look out for as the new campaign kicks into gear.

Ford and Toyota debut new car bodies

Logano and McDowell underlined the potency of the new Mustang by locking out the front row in qualifying

Logano and McDowell underlined the potency of the new Mustang by locking out the front row in qualifying

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

While the 2024 NASCAR Cup season features new drivers and new venues, there will also be an updated look to the entries from Toyota and Ford: Toyota Racing Development and Ford Performance are to debut new iterations of their respective Camry and Mustang race cars.

In early November, Ford unveiled its new-version Mustang for competition in 2024 based on the Mustang ‘Dark Horse’, the seventh generation of the revered model. Since arriving in Cup in 2019, the Mustang has won a manufacturers’ championship and series-best 18 races in 2020, and drivers’ championships with Team Penske pair Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney in 2022 and 2023 respectively.

Later that same month, Toyota followed with its new Camry XSE race car for Cup series competition. The Camry XSE Next Gen follows the Toyota Camry TRD Next Gen, which produced 18 victories and 25 poles during the past two seasons of competition.

How the new bodies will change those teams’ performance is pretty much an open book yet to be filled with data. Each car had just one limited on-track test prior to the 3 February pre-season Busch Light Clash exhibition at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was won by Toyota driver Denny Hamlin. With such restricted testing and only a short exhibition race under their belts, the expected performance gains have largely been illustrated though computer models.

“All the tools we use – the wind tunnel, the CFD – all of that carries back and forth,” says Richard Johns, Ford’s NASCAR performance leader. “So, what we learn in the development of the Cup car carries over to production and what we learn in production carries over to the Cup car. There’s a lot of technology transfer, especially on the aerodynamic side.”

Both car models feature some visible differences from their predecessors, with the largest coming in the nose designs. The Mustang has some sharp character lines that draw to a more rounded nose. The Toyota has a distinctive hammerhead styling, with an upper grille slot that is tied into the updated slim and wide headlights. JU

Cup irregular SVG bids for glory in Xfinity

Supercars legend van Gisbergen makes his full-time NASCAR switch after winning on his Cup debut last year

Supercars legend van Gisbergen makes his full-time NASCAR switch after winning on his Cup debut last year

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

The most exciting newcomer to NASCAR in 2024 isn’t even going to be a Cup Series regular, but Shane van Gisbergen’s victory in the Chicago Street Race last year for Trackhouse Racing rocked the stock car world.

The first man in 60 years to score a Cup triumph on his debut is to compete full-time in the second-tier Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing to learn the ropes, but he will run in at least seven Cup events among a 40-race programme that will start in the ARCA series at Daytona.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” the three-time Australian Supercars champion admits of superspeedway racing. “I’m a full rookie.”

SVG will share the #16 Kaulig Chevrolet in Cup with Josh Williams and AJ Allmendinger. Also worth keeping an eye out for in 2024 is reigning Supercars champion Brodie Kostecki, whose falling out down under with Erebus Motorsport could manifest itself into a sooner-than-anticipated switch to the US with Richard Childress Racing. Fellow Supercars star Cam Waters is also expected to run three races in RFK’s #60 Ford.

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In full-time driver moves, Kevin Harvick’s retirement has opened the door for Josh Berry to graduate to Cup in the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, while Noah Gragson (who lost his drive at Legacy MC by disgracing himself on social media) moves to the #10 SHR machine vacated by Aric Almirola. Xfinity standout John Hunter Nemechek takes over the Legacy seat from Gragson.

Justin Haley has swapped Kaulig for Rick Ware Racing’s #51 entry, while the sister #15 car will be shared between Kaz Grala, Cody Ware (returning to the sport after strangulation charges against him were dropped) and Riley Herbst.

Lanky Truck Series firebrand Carson Hocevar will drive the #77 in place of Ty Dillon at Spire Motorsports, which has added a third entry – bought for $40million from Live Fast Motorsports – for the highly rated Zane Smith, 24, who won the 2022 Truck title.

And seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s part-time schedule with Legacy MC has increased to at least nine races, adding the returning Brickyard 400 to his roster that will kick off with his bid to win a third Daytona 500. CB

Jimmie Johnson racing a Toyota will blow fans’ minds

Johnson needs to race his way into the Daytona 500 field in his Legacy MC Camry

Johnson needs to race his way into the Daytona 500 field in his Legacy MC Camry

Photo by: Danny Hansen / NKP / Motorsport Images

Only Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt have recorded the same number of NASCAR Cup titles as Jimmie Johnson but, at the age of 48, ‘seven-time’ is back for at least a nine-race schedule with a major twist… he’ll be racing a Toyota.

It’s something that’s not lost on David Wilson, the head of Toyota’s US motorsports division: “Jimmie Johnson running a Toyota Camry, can you believe that? Fans are going to go mental!”

Johnson, who ‘retired’ from NASCAR competition in 2020 and switched to IndyCar for a couple of seasons, just couldn’t stay away from stock cars. The recently inducted Hall of Famer was a mainstay of Hendrick Motorsports’ Garage 56 project, driving alongside Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller as they took NASCAR to the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Johnson also took an ownership role in the Petty GMS squad, which has morphed into Legacy Motor Club under the stewardship of airline entrepreneur Maury Gallagher. Last May, it made the big decision to switch manufacturers, moving away from Chevrolet and putting NASCAR legends Johnson and Petty squarely in the Toyota camp. It also pairs full-season drivers Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek, both no strangers to Toyota’s stock car ranks.

Another big off-track move was the appointment of industry veteran Cal Wells as Legacy’s CEO, and he brings a ton of Toyota knowhow to the team.

“It’s almost too good to be true how all this has come together,” adds Wilson. “Cal and I have been working together for 35 years, and he’s raced just about everything we’ve done. Most importantly, he understands our culture, so he’s already made a major impact in the short time he’s been there.”

Johnson adds: “We are confident [Cal’s] leadership will take us to the next level during many upcoming transitions of the manufacturer change, as well as continuing to build our brand. We’re growing quickly, and certainly hope to be a force in the NASCAR industry. I’m excited to have a shot at another Daytona 500 trophy in our new Toyota Camry XSEs.”

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Legacy’s inclusion also raises Toyota’s market share on the grid to eight full-time entries, giving it more drafting partners at the superspeedways. CB

Shaking up the massive schedule

The Cup series hasn't raced on the Indianapolis oval since 2020, having used the road course in recent seasons

The Cup series hasn't raced on the Indianapolis oval since 2020, having used the road course in recent seasons

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

The 2024 NASCAR Cup season brings with it some intriguing schedule changes, highlighted by the revival of the Brickyard 400. The return of this crown-jewel event will represent NASCAR’s first race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval since 2020.

The Cup Series will also compete in the state of Iowa for the first time since 1953, adding the Iowa Speedway short track to the 2024 schedule. The Bristol Dirt Race is no more, with the half-mile now hosting two races on the concrete once again.

Where things get really interesting is when you look at the playoffs. Due to the TV demands of the Olympics in Paris, NASCAR is taking a two-week hiatus after the Brickyard 400. As a result, the first round of the playoffs will look very different.

The Southern 500 at Darlington will now serve as the regular season finale, while Atlanta Motor Speedway becomes the opening race of the playoffs. Watkins Glen International will join Atlanta in the Round of 16, meaning this is the first time NASCAR has ever run two road courses during the Cup Series playoffs, the Charlotte Roval being the other.

Another shake-up involves Texas Motor Speedway. Just two years ago, it hosted the All-Star Race and a playoff round. Now it’ll host neither, with Texas removed from the playoffs entirely. The track, which lost its IndyCar date after 2023, will host a single Cup race weekend in April.

Following the successful revival of North Wilkesboro Speedway last year, the historic track will host the All-Star Race for the second consecutive year.

California’s Auto Club Speedway has been taken off the schedule entirely, so the 2024 season will now open with back-to-back drafting tracks, with the series’ first of two trips to Atlanta immediately following the Daytona 500. With carnage the norm at both tracks, crash damage could set some unfortunate teams behind before we even reach March!

Starting with the Daytona 500, NASCAR teams will be spending 37 of the next 39 weekends at the track in the longest schedule in motorsport. Nick DeGroot

New aero package to liven up the short-track show

Package of changes 
should improve cars’
handling in traffic

Package of changes should improve cars’ handling in traffic

Photo by: Ben Earp / NKP / Motorsport Images

While NASCAR’s Next Gen car in the Cup Series has visibly improved the quality of racing on the series’ intermediate and superspeedways, the effort on short tracks and road courses remains a work in progress.

For the second consecutive season, NASCAR begins the year with a new aerodynamic rules package for road courses and most short tracks. On road courses and most ovals of 1.058 miles or less, cars will run a simplified diffuser along with a handful of other updates. Among them: use of the 2023 short track/road course splitter stuffers, removal of engine panel strakes, a three-inch spoiler, and simplified diffuser strakes.

These changes came about following driver feedback from a test at Phoenix last December, which was prompted by a second season of short track and road course events that featured long green flag runs rather than the typical bumping and banging seen with the Gen 6 car. Five short track and road course races in 2023 had five cautions or fewer, and green flag passes for the lead on those tracks were down for the second straight year.

Due to cost and parts availability concerns, the new rules were not used in the pre-season Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Instead, they will debut in the 10 March race at Phoenix. NASCAR believes that the biggest gain from the package will be how cars handle in traffic.

“At the test, the car did not lose rear downforce when it yawed, which is an issue we fight with the current car,” says NASCAR vice-president of vehicle performance Eric Jacuzzi. “The drivers would be able to slide around more on the short tracks and really have to be less careful about putting power down. At the test, they felt they could really tell that it was more forgiving.”

Another element to the success of the new rules package will be Goodyear’s continued efforts to try new tyre compounds – something it began last season.

“I think we really proved that we could continue to work on making the compounds we have softer, to where they have more grip initially, but then fall off more significantly,” Jacuzzi adds. JU

Cost and part availability concerns meant the new rules were not used in the pre-season Clash won by Hamlin

Cost and part availability concerns meant the new rules were not used in the pre-season Clash won by Hamlin

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

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