Ford F-150 Lightning is New Pace Car For NASCAR

The Ford F-150 Lightning was the official pace car for NASCAR's latest Cup Series race on April 9, marking a historic first for both organizations. The all-electric vehicle led the pack of race cars at Martinsville Speedway for the annual Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400, kicking off a spectacular evening of racing.

The Lightning is Ford's first electric pickup truck and also the first electric truck to be the pace car in a NASCAR event. This event serves as a reminder of the widespread shift towards EVs in racing and the automotive industry as a whole.

About the F-150 Lightning

The F-150 Lightning isn't the first EV Ford has introduced at a NASCAR event. The American manufacturer also released the Mustang Mach-E in 2021 and Focus Electric in 2012, but neither got the same publicity as the Lightning. The F Series of pickup trucks is Ford's most successful line of vehicles in company history, so the Lightning carries more significance.

The Lightning had no issue leading the pack of race cars at Martinsville. It glided along with a similar aura to its F-150 predecessors, making an impressive display for Ford and NASCAR and justifying Ford's $11 billion bet on an electric future.

It's also worth noting that the Lightning would have completed the 210-mile race on a single charge. It comes with a standard 230-mile battery pack, but you can also get a 320-mile extended-range pack. Here are some other features the Lightning brings to the table:

- Zero emissions
- Intelligent Backup Power
- FordPass Integration for remote access and communication
- Charge Station Pro for easy public charging
- Automatic over-the-air software updates
- CoPilot 360 2.0 driver assisting technologies

While these fancy advancements are nice to have, people buy pickup trucks for power. Fortunately, the Lightning has all the strength and durability to handle the jobs we expect F-150s to handle:

- 563 horsepower
- 775 pound-feet of torque
- 10,000 pounds towing capacity
- 2,000 pounds payload capacity
- Backup Assist
- Smart Hitch

The body looks virtually identical to the gas-powered 2022 F-150, but with one key difference: the headlights. The headlights stretch across the truck's face and connect to form one long light, reminding us of the vehicle's long battery life. The stock wheels also look more futuristic, invoking the truck's new-age technology.

The Lightning has already gathered 200,000 reservations since its May 2021 release, but its appearance at Martinsville Speedway was the first public display of the truck's capabilities.

EVs in Racing's Near Future

NASCAR has made a point to partner with Ford in EV pace car promotions in recent years. The Ford Fusion Energi and Focus Electric hybrids were also pace cars in races during the mid-2010s, but the company decided to take the next step in 2022.

NASCAR broke new ground in 2022 by introducing a new line of Next-Gen hybrid race cars with battery-powered engines. Top executives expect the new vehicles to improve the driving and viewing experience, thanks to a sleek aerodynamic design and other functional features we haven't seen rolled into one race car before:

- Independent rear suspension
- 18-inch wheels with lower-profile tires
- Split exhaust
- Six-speed sequential shifter
- Single-lug assembly

If this Next-Gen vehicle is successful, the NASCAR brand and the entire automotive industry will experience some major changes. NASCAR's current vehicle partners — Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge — will have further incentive to produce all-electric and hybrid vehicles. It will also open the opportunity for other EV manufacturers to come into the fold, putting more EVs on the map and paving the way for an all-electric field of race cars.

However, some glaring obstacles have emerged. Racing teams have struggled to adapt to supply chain issues and drivers also report that it's more difficult to pass other vehicles. The race only featured five lead changes from cautions and driver pit stops, and none of them were real passes for the lead.

Kevin Harvick, former Cup Series champion and five-time winner at the Martinsville Speedway, had this to say after the race:

"The gear ratios are way wrong ... We just don't have the ability to have the mechanical grip right now to pass. It's a combination of the car, track, and tire. It's those things put all together that equal what we have."

Harvick finished 28th and ended his post-race interview by saying the racing teams have "no idea of how [they] fix this thing right now." Other drivers seem to share the same sentiment about the new cars. It sounds like NASCAR has some major bugs to fix before it can hope to become an all-electric racing brand.

EV Racing Still a Work in Progress

Although the F-150 Lightning seems to deserve the hype, we cannot say the same about NASCAR's latest hybrid race cars. An all-electric vehicle for outdoor recreation is one thing, but an all-electric race car that can handle a 400-lap racing event is still beyond our scope. EV racing is still a slow work in progress, and NASCAR's Next-Gen vehicle could be another setback.

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