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NASCAR official: Possible engine changes need ‘longer runway’

Motormouths discusses calls for more horsepower in the short-track package, with Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty saying it's no surprise Martinsville needs more passing, but they don't know why the focus is on engines.

The possibility of adding horsepower to race engines to enhance the Cup Series’ short track package would involve what a NASCAR official Tuesday called a “longer runway.”

NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer, responding to driver calls for more horsepower and complaints of limited passing opportunities Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, said adding horsepower is a long and complicated process.

“It takes a little bit of a runway to get everybody on the same page and do that in the most efficient and economical manner,” Sawyer told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Tuesday morning. “If there are other options outside the engine it would be far easier for us to pull that lever. I’m not saying it isn’t a good option down the road, but it takes a little longer runway to get there.

“When you look at the architecture of the engine today, when you add horsepower to an engine, will the components that the engine is built with today withstand 200 or 300 more horsepower? We work closely with the engine builders. Is there another lever to pull with tires or aero? The engine is a much bigger topic and it needs a much deeper dive to get that right. It’s not as easy as adding 200 horsepower and showing up at the next oval to race.”

MORE: Cup drivers say changes needed

After Sunday’s race, Denny Hamlin complained about difficulties passing.
“We’re in a box with these engines, and NASCAR’s leadership wants us (with these) engines, they keep lowering horsepower, which makes us have to shift,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “So I don’t know if we’re ever going to fix this until we put more horsepower on the cars or build a tire that somehow falls off. We have to try something different because we can’t just have follow-the-leader racing. Man, you want to see passes for the lead and we’re just not really seeing any of that right now.”

On another Martinsville topic, Sawyer indicated John Hunter Nemechek’s spectacular burnout after his win in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race probably won’t generate any changes to post-race protocol. Nemechek’s burnout spread fire across the underside of his car and onto the surface of the track and did extensive damage to the car.

Zane Smith sparked another fire after winning the Craftsman Truck Series race at COTA last month.

“Celebrations post-race have become something for our fans and drivers,” Sawyer said. “When you win a national series race, it’s a big deal. We want to see our drivers celebrate, see them excited. The teams are doing that in a manner safe as possible. Burnouts have become something in the last four to five years that are quite popular. We’ll take a look at that, but, on the flip side, we want those guys to celebrate. Every situation is a little different. We’ll look at that to see if there’s anything we need to do going forward.”

Sawyer said NASCAR made a mistake in delaying the start of a caution period after a wheel came off Anthony Alfredo’s car with about 100 laps to go. The wheel was against the wall in Turn 4 and wasn’t immediately spotted by officials.

“That one is on us,” Sawyer said. “We should have thrown the caution sooner. No excuse. The way the tire ended up in Turn 4 against the wall, there was some shadow there. We didn’t see it from the tower. It took too long. We have to be better on that, and we will.”