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With the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season fast approaching, drivers and fans are counting down the days until the Clash at the Coliseum. However, before that exhibition in L.A., NASCAR officials are diligently working behind the scenes to improve on the second-year Next Gen car through a round of testing in Phoenix, focusing in particular on aerodynamics and sound at short tracks. 

All fans can get behind improving the car’s aero, especially on the shorter circuits, where it was often single-groove racing and challenging for anyone to pass last year. Unsurprisingly, changing the sound of the cars has been met with resistance from some fans, who suggest it won’t be the same and will affect the overall experience. But will it?

NASCAR divides fans with changes for Clash at Coliseum awards ceremony

Last year NASCAR took the Clash out west to the historic L.A. Coliseum. By all accounts, it was a success. In this, the second edition of the exhibition race around the quarter-mile track, the governing body recently announced it decided to change it up a little bit, altering the awards ceremony.

Instead of the traditional one-winner-takes-home-the-trophy approach, the top three drivers will be recognized in a podium ceremony, which is commonplace in other forms of motorsports, including F1. And in the spirit of the Olympics, which have held events in the storied venue twice in the past and will again in 2028, the drivers will receive gold, silver, and bronze medals.

The response was divided. One unhappy and vocal group of fans suggested NASCAR is trying too much to replicate F1. Another set approved the change as long as it was limited to the Clash, which was always the plan. And then a third group wanted to go all the way and adopt podium finishes in all Cup Series races in the future. 

NASCAR testing new mufflers for Clash and Chicago

With the offseason coming to a close, NASCAR has been ramping up its testing efforts in recent weeks, including a Goodyear tire test at Circuit of the Americas earlier this month, and this week out at Phoenix with an aerodynamics and muffler test specific to short tracks.   

The issue of single-groove racing on circuits like Bristol and Martinsville has been well-documented. NASCAR is actively seeking solutions to the problem by modifying the car’s aerodynamics. 

But a lesser publicized issue last year with the new car was the sound. It was noticeably louder from years past. That’s because instead of the exhaust exiting only on the left side, it now comes out on both sides.

Some drivers last year reportedly changed their earplugs due to the increased volume. And fans at venues like Bristol had a hard time talking to the person next to them during the event. In an effort to address those concerns, NASCAR was reportedly trying to reduce the decibel level by six to 10 decibels with a muffler package designed to be used only at the Clash and through the streets of Chicago in the summer.

Drivers and fans offer feedback

Brad Keselowski and Christopher Bell were a couple of drivers in the desert for the two-day testing session. The 2012 Cup champion was encouraged by the muffler test. 

“The whole muffler package was pretty good,” Keselowski told Fox’s Bob Pockrass. “It seemed to make the cars actually sound a little better without kind of neutering them. I thought it was pretty productive and there’s something to work with in the future.”

Bell also left Phoenix feeling good about the muffler and its effect on the sound. 

“They helped a lot through the garage area, just being around the cars when they started up — they definitely made that a lot more quiet,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. “Inside the seat, green-flag conditions, I couldn’t tell the difference.”

Despite the drivers seeing the muffler as a net positive, some fans weren’t as excited about the change. 

“Yep, I stand by my earlier statement that they sound muffled,” wrote one fan, responding to a video showing the difference in sound. “To me it sounds a lot like the difference between at the track vs. being outside the track. Can you feel the difference in your chest?”

“It doesn’t sound right with the mufflers it need more sharp notes in it,” another replied.

“When will Phelps require turn signal use before NASCAR Racecar Drivers can change lanes on the track? WHEN?” questioned another frustrated fan. 

It’s understandable for fans to express concern that the change in sound could affect the overall experience. But the modification must be taken in proper context, which is it’s: 1) a reduction of sound from a car that was definitively louder from previous years because of a radical change in the exhaust system, and 2) only applicable in LA and Chicago. There are no plans as of now for it to be incorporated later at other short tracks like Bristol or Martinsville. Even though for those fans who sat in the stands last year and had to read lips of the person sitting next to them during the entire race, it would likely be a welcomed change.