As the 2018 season approaches, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is not the only series taking on the new year with a new body style. The NASCAR XFINITY Series will utilize the flange-fit composite body for all races in the 2018 season, apart from the superspeedway races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
The flange-fit body is designed to save teams time and money, as cars are now put together with 13 interlocking panels. The other goal of the design is to reduce the number of illegal body modifications with a raised “honeycomb” pattern on certain locations of the body.
The composite bodies were first introduced to the series on a limited basis during the 2017 season and teams were able to run the new body style at Richmond Raceway, Dover International Speedway and Phoenix Raceway during the second half of the year.
Richard Childress Racing’s XFINITY Series program ran the new body style at all three tracks last year to help prepare for the 2018 season. After collecting four top-five and six top-10 finishes in the composite bodies, the teams are optimistic to see how that translates in 2018.
“I actually like the idea of the flange-fit body,” said Danny Stockman, crew chief of the No. 21 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro. “I think it’s going to be good for the series, and the racing will be better because of it. The cars are going to be more of a handful to drive. They’re going to make less downforce than they did last year, we know that based off how they ran last year. I think the drivability of the car is going to have to be better to make speed, because we won’t have as much aero grip as we’ve had in the past, so we’ll have to make grip in the tires with suspension.”
Daniel Hemric, driver of the No. 21 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet, echoed his crew chief’s thoughts.
“I felt like running those bodies first at Richmond, a place that’s really slick and hard on tires, we got a decent idea on the handling of the new bodies but pace-wise there wasn’t much of a change,” said Hemric. “We did see the field close up a little bit. The aero grip of that body seemed to not matter as much as the mechanical grip of the car. For guys who spent their whole lives short track racing and trying to make as much grip as they can in the car from the mechanic side, it made a lot more sense.
“As we went through Dover and we went through Phoenix, I saw it really solidify what our thoughts were and that the bodies close the field up,” he continued. “I think it will open the window for opportunity.”
With the new composite bodies, NASCAR is also introducing a new form of technical inspection, called the Hawkeye system, to crack down on all body modifications. This means during the offseason, teams are working hard to learn how to set up these cars properly and make it through tech without any unwanted penalties.
“With the new composite bodies, it’s almost like NASCAR is saying, ‘This is your box. This is what you have to work with,’” said Byron Daley, engineer for the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro.
“There’s not a whole lot more we can really do to the body, so it’s definitely made the playing field more even across the board,” said Daley.
“There is a new tech procedure they’re going to be using this year where there will be a black light scan room instead of templates,” added Nick Harrison, crew chief of the No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro. “We’ve been down there twice this winter running our cars through the new laser. It makes the box to play in a little bit tighter, but it closes the competition up a little bit.”
With the first race weekend of the year inching closer, the XFINITY Series teams are working hard around the clock to have the first flange-fit cars of the season ready to go, while also working with some unknowns.
“It’s definitely made some more work for us in the offseason. It’s a complete fleet change for three teams,” said Stockman.
“The steel car will race at Daytona and the other superspeedway weekends, but when we make a change this big, it means that every car must come completely apart, and we have to redo the whole car brand new again,” he said. “We don’t have five cars per team sitting out on the shop floor ready to go right now, so we’re still in the process of building them.”
“It’ll be interesting to see how it all goes this year,” said Randall Burnett, crew chief of the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro. “There are still some unknowns with these cars. We haven’t run on any intermediate tracks yet, so we’ll definitely have a learning curve on the first few races with that just trying to figure out where the body wants to be and its attitude on the track. We’ve still got a lot to learn about them.”
While much of the focus for the RCR XFINITY Series teams remains on preparing for the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway and successfully integrating Matt Tifft into the driver lineup, the research, development and production of the composite body cars has been an on-going process that will continue to be a major storyline throughout the 2018 season, starting in Week 2 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.