On its website, Ford advertises its 2019 Mustang GT Fastback as capable of producing 460 horsepower from the car’s 5.0-liter V8 engine. Better yet, according to Car and Driver, the 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and its 5.2-liter V8 engine is capable of producing 526 horsepower.
When Joey Logano won Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the V8 engine in his 2019 Ford Mustang was pumping out roughly 550 horsepower.
This is relevant because, as Logano put it, “No one’s buying cars with 800 horsepower, for the most part.”
The Las Vegas race, the first for the NASCAR Cup Series under its full new rules package for 2019, received mixed reactions (naturally) from fans, media and race teams. But Logano reiterated an important point as it relates to the package that decreases horsepower from a target of 750 to a target of 550 in Cup cars at certain tracks.
“It makes sense to be more relevant to the cars that are on the street,” Logano told Sporting News on Tuesday. “We want to stay true to our roots, of what NASCAR is built on, going to the local dealership and buying a car and going racing.
“We’ll never get back to that — and good thing, because our cars are a lot safer — but it brings us one step closer to being more relevant to what you see on the road.”
Of course, that fact is independent of the early criticisms surrounding the new package.
On one hand, the winner of the first race of the season that featured cars running both a smaller tapered spacer and aero ducts should approve of the modifications. But Logano is in his 12th season as a Cup Series driver. And while he admits this is the “most significant rules change” NASCAR has forced “in a very long time,” he does not consider negative reactions warranted.
Among the goals NASCAR had with its new aero package, which in addition to decreasing horsepower also aims to increase downforce and drag, was diminishing the chances of lead cars driving away from the field, particularly at mile-and-a-half tracks, and allowing more chances for passing. The Vegas race was a smashing success in that regard.
According to NASCAR.com, there were 3,341 green-flag passes Sunday, easily the most in a Vegas Spring race over the last five years. There were 47 green-flag passes for the lead; last year’s Spring race in Vegas featured just nine.
“When you look at that, you have to say it’s better,” Logano said. “The leader didn’t have an advantage, and sometimes, early in the run, the leader was even at a disadvantage. It was really, really challenging to hold off the cars behind you.”
(This is where we mention how few seemed to care about the number of lead changes in a race back in 1990, for example, when Dale Earnhardt led the last 262 laps of a race in Phoenix on his way to his fourth of seven championships. Alas …)
Logano also challenged an assumption associated with NASCAR’s new rules package. Given increased downforce, are the cars easier to drive? Some have suggested that’s why there have been no crashes in the last two Cup races. The verdict (granted, after just a couple races) …
Yes and no.
“If you’re by yourself and there’s no cars around you, yes, the cars are pretty easy to drive in comparison to last year,” Logano explained. “But when you’re in traffic, the dirty air is unpredictable. The car just takes off in different directions. So your reaction times have to be quicker.
“The other piece that’s even tougher is you kind of gotta have a superspeedway mentality. You’re constantly looking in the mirror; you’re constantly looking where other cars are, what your surroundings are. Mentally, you have to be engaged maybe more than last year when you’re racing through traffic. I wouldn’t say it’s easier or harder. It’s just different. Especially right now because we’re all trying to figure everything out.”
And that’s a key point. This is all new. Hence the reason NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell, like Logano, chalked up the Vegas race upon its conclusion as a step in the right direction. O’Donnell reminded everybody that NASCAR will evaluate the package after the season, not after a couple races.
But for now, if there’s one thing NASCAR officials, race teams and fans can agree upon as it relates to this package, it might be Logano’s point about relatability.
That Shelby GT 350 on the Ford showroom floor still might not look exactly like the No. 22 Penske Racing Mustang that Logano drove to victory lane Sunday. But now, at least it produces comparable power.
Joey Logano spoke to Sporting News on behalf of Panini America, the world’s largest licensed sports and entertainment collectibles company. Logano will serve as the Driver Ambassador in Panini’s NASCAR VIP Experience at the 2020 Daytona 500. By purchasing select Panini 2019 officially licensed NASCAR trading cards, fans will receive access codes that they can use to enter the sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip for four to Daytona and meet Logano.