Chad Knaus used the word “frightening” when describing the looming task of balancing the goals of 2020 with preparations for the Next Gen car.
“It is a huge task,” said the seven-time champion crew chief from Hendrick Motorsports.
NASCAR Cup Series teams are expecting to take delivery of the Next Gen car this summer. Manufacturers are still working through their body designs, and parts suppliers through a request-for-proposal (RFP) process are still be awarded by NASCAR.
“I’ll say this from my perspective, the sooner we get stuff, the better off we’re going to be as an industry,” Knaus said. “Obviously, NASCAR is working really hard to try to get these things put out there, and understanding what the guidelines are going to be. But it’s such a fundamental change.”
This season marks the 20th full year that Knaus has been a Cup Series crew chief. Knaus calculates that he’s gone through five generations of cars in that time, but he believes that he degree of change represented by the Next Gen car is in its own league.
“This will be the largest fundamental shift we’ve had in our sport since it started, and that’s really frightening to race teams because there’s huge dollar figures involved,” Knaus continued.
“It’s really frightening to the people that work in the industry because there’s a lot of people that made a career out of what it is that we do. But we’ve got to try to understand what that is, and get the right people in place and the right procedures in place for a completely different car, which is fun and exciting at the same that it’s frightening. So, I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“I’m looking forward to the car. I’m looking forward to the venues that could potentially arise because of this car. The design of this car will, I think, allow it to be more welcome at different types of racetracks, which would be kind of cool. It’s going to be a lot of fun, but man, if you’re not full speed on this thing by midyear this year, you’re going to be behind going into the 2021 season.”
Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing, said Roush management is regularly talking about how to balance the job at hand while preparing for next year.
“Now the nice thing right now, we can talk about all of it and be nervous about all of it, but there are no parts, there’s nothing for us to do,” said Newmark. “You don’t even know what the final rules are. If we wanted to go build a Next Gen car right now, even me knowing half of who the suppliers are going to be, we couldn’t do it because there’s no parts available.”
“This year is going to be very unusual and unique. There are people that have been with Jack [Roush] for a long time, and they’ve pretty much seen everything in the sport, talking about [veteran crew chief] Jimmy Fenning; he hasn’t seen what we’re about to face this year. Which is focusing on 2020, trying to make sure we meet our goals – getting both cars in the playoffs and there’s lots of very specific objectives we have – and you’re going to be doing that while also trying to prepare for the unknown for 2021.
“Do I think everything is buttoned up for 2021? Absolutely not. But do I think that NASCAR has a handle on the direction that we need to go? Yes, and quite frankly, we’re going to learn together. But NASCAR has involved us in every step of the way on these RFPs (request for proposal), on the single-source suppliers, on the rules for this year. We could have had a much more difficult scenario if it had been open game on parts development while we were also still trying to get our arms around Next Gen.”
Next Gen is expected to feature independent rear suspension, 18-inch wheels, a sequential shifter, and bigger brakes. What will not be featured until 2022 at the earliest, according to NASCAR officials, will be any sort of electrification.
A summer timeline for taking delivery of the car is fine with Mason St. Hilaire, the general manager of Go Fas Racing. The toughest part, however, will be that teams are in the thick of the season, and Next Gen will become a new toy everyone wants to play with. On that basis, his concern is with minimizing distractions.
“I think with how aggressively we’re pushing this to make it right, that summer timeframe is perfect,” explained St. Hilaire. “I’ve been through a lot of the RFP processes, and we want to make sure the right pieces and parts are going on this car. We don’t want to push something along and then, later on, we’re like, ‘Oh man, we have to go back to that and take this off.’
“NASCAR and the teams are doing the right thing, and I think that summer timeline is the right time that we’ll need that car.”
Not much is yet known on who the suppliers will be. St. Hilaire offered that the process is still being worked out on “a ton of things. Things like the chassis and certain parts and pieces have been awarded, which has been good, and we’re under budget as of now, so that’s always a good thing. We saw a big number in the beginning, but a lot of things coming in is a lot less than what we initially anticipated, so that’s good to see. I think everything is going to come out pretty good.”