NASCAR took another step in testing its Next Gen race car by spending the last two days at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Toyota’s Erik Jones drove the car in what was its third on-track test and first on an intermediate racetrack. NASCAR has used drivers from all three manufacturers after Austin Dillon (Chevrolet) got behind the wheel for the car’s rollout at Richmond and 2018 series champion Joey Logano (Ford) drove the car at Phoenix.
“Homestead is a good track for us as we try to make a progression through track types, speeds and loads,” said John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation. “We started at Richmond, a short track with relatively low loads, graduated to Phoenix that has higher speeds and higher loads. Homestead is the next step in terms of speed as we get into the intermediate tracks. It’s also a track that has a lot of different lines you can take through the corner.
“The progressive banking here allows you to start at the bottom, and if the car is tight you can ride it up and complete the turn. This is a very forgiving track for us to come to and continue learning about the car as we develop it.”
During his time behind the wheel, Jones noticed a “big aero change” between the Next Gen car and what drivers are currently competing with in the NASCAR Cup Series. Echoing some of the comments made by Logano last month, Jones also said when the Next Gen car gets loose it does not correct itself as drivers are used to.
“The quarter-panels are so short and there’s no offset in the car — it’s very symmetrical — so there’s not a lot to lean on in this car,” said Jones. “I think a lot of the aero changes they’ve done are going to help as far as racing goes, especially racing in a pack. Other than that, as we were working on things, some driving characteristics are similar.
“I think there is definitely more grip to be had as far as what the car is capable of. I think as far as development goes, there is going to be a lot more mechanical grip available than what we currently have.”
In a video posted Thursday afternoon on his Twitter page, Jones gave a view of what the interior of the Next Gen car looks like. While doing so, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver pointed out the sequential shifter.
“The shifting has been fun, it’s been different,” Jones said. “I’ve never done anything other than normal H-pattern shifting in my career. You can bang right through the gears; we did a restart at the end of the day yesterday and it was fun learning about that and how you can push that gearbox. That really gets you excited for the road courses and what it’s going to be capable of there.”
NASCAR President Steve Phelps spoke at the end of last season on the importance of putting ‘stock’ back in stock car with the Next Gen car. Next Gen will also see the sport move from a 15-inch to an 18-inch tire, is expected to have independent rear suspension, while the possibility has also been raised of featuring some form of hybrid technology.
NASCAR plans to test the prototype a fourth time at Auto Club Speedway on Monday and Tuesday after the March 1 race weekend.
“We’ve actually started the manufacturing of the Phase 3 prototype, which will take all of the lessons learned from the tests we’ve previously had,” said Probst. “Once that is built, we’ll probably start using this car as a ‘second car’ to start simulating cars in traffic to see what we can learn from that.
“There are some logistical reasons that make sense for us to stay and test (in Fontana). But it’s also important to get some rubbered-in conditions of what it’s like in a race. We want to replicate that as best as we can so when we go back to race, there are no new lessons to learn. We still look forward to taking this to superspeedways and road courses — we have a lot to learn there as well. We’ll go back and iterate on what we have now, but we feel like we’re in a good spot. We’re going to keep developing and working on what we’ve got, and we think we’re going to end up with a really good product.”