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Ready for Prius on Prius racing? NASCAR could go hybrid in 2022

NASCAR is America’s most popular racing series, but it’s also one of the most conservative when it comes to technology. But that doesn’t mean NASCAR is completely resistant to change. The series could adopt hybrid powertrains in 2022, an official said in an interview with TechCrunch.

“We’re pushing to go full hybrid,” John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president for racing development, said. “I don’t know where the balance nets out for us long term, but some form of hybrid technology is certainly on our radar … after 2021.”

A NASCAR spokesperson subsequently told TechCrunch that while “nothing is fully confirmed” until cars actually hit the track, “hybrid tech could certainly be in our cars by 2022, if all plans stay on track.”

Instead of using electric boost solely for fuel efficiency, NASCAR will likely use it to add power, Probst told TechCrunch, with electricity to charge a battery pack likely coming from regenerative braking. He indicated hybrid powertrains may initially be used on shorter oval tracks, as well as the more technical road courses, rather than the larger ovals that host NASCAR’s marquee events.

While other racing series style themselves as test beds for future technology, NASCAR is all about a very specific kind of spectacle. The series is all about big V8s, oval tracks, and cars built to an idiosyncratic template that isn’t cutting edge, but doesn’t have anything to do with ordinary road cars, either. Convincing teams and fans to make a change will be an uphill battle.

The three automakers currently involved in NASCAR — Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota — all have significant experience with hybrids. This experience could help speed up development of NASCAR hybrid powertrains, ensuring the manufacturers meet the 2022 target.

Because NASCAR racers have virtually nothing in common with road cars, it’s unlikely any of this racing hybrid tech will make it into cars people can actually buy. It will present a valuable marketing opportunity, though. Toyota races a Camry-branded car in NASCAR, and the street version of the Camry is already available as a hybrid. Ford’s NASCAR racer is a Mustang, and that car will get a hybrid powertrain soon as well.

NASCAR isn’t the only racing series trying to go green. IndyCar plans to launch its first hybrid powertrain in 2022. Formula One teams began using hybrid tech in 2009, and the series mandated hybrid powertrains for the 2014 season. The 24 Hours of Le Mans has featured hybrids in its top class since 2012, but the F1 hybrids have been criticized for their lack of noise and high costs that have dampened competition in both series.

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