NASCAR and Goodyear have wrapped up a two-day test with the Next Gen car at Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday, and there continue to be things to work through before the 2022 season.
In addition to working with Goodyear to develop a suitable tire, NASCAR also focused on the speed of the cars. Following runs on Tuesday, officials made changes to the tapered spacer, making it smaller, and the rear spoiler was also reduced to seven inches. Those changes put the cars in the 510-horsepower range.
“That had the desired effect today; we did slow the cars down some,” said John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president or racing innovation. “The feedback from the drivers was that it wasn’t a radical change from one to the next, so we feel like we now have that data to evaluate coming back here.”
William Byron said drivers got aggressive in the second drafting session. In an eight-car pack, Byron said everyone was “pretty comfortable.”
As for the speed, Byron said, “it feels a little bit slower. You have a little bit more time to think on the speedways. But I like that. I think it kind of lets you think more about the moves.”
Drivers tested with team-prepared Next Gen cars. All previous tests had been with the NASCAR prototype or manufacturer-built cars.
“The biggest difference day-to-day was the package we went to with the smaller spoiler and lower horsepower,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ross Chastain. “I thought it was worse for maneuverability and us to be able to race, but there was only eight of us, so it was tough to build any momentum as it is. I think that would be the case with our current car as well.
“I think a little bit higher horsepower and bigger spoiler, something to make the hole behind the car in front bigger… when the air comes across the belly pan there’s too much air, and the trailing car can’t catch up to a certain extent, not like we can now. Granted, I think if you had 40 cars out there, you’re going to catch up; you’re going to get pushed up there. We did some tandem drafting – some guys did more than me, but I did a little bit. Even with the round bumpers, we were all pretty cautious, but it was doable. Now, you go hit ‘em really hard with a round bumper, it’s probably not going to be really good. Stuff we just have to learn.”
Chris Buescher of Roush Fenway Racing said the steering is “quicker” than anything he’s previously driven. And inside the car, he’s adjusting to the rearview camera.
“Inside, we’re working on getting some stuff figured out to make it a little more comfortable,” Buescher said. “The rearview camera is something that is really neat there, learned a lot about it in the runs and the drafting runs there. You can actually see quite a bit more than you’re used to. I used the camera a lot, and the spotter up on the roof to learn where cars are and be able to start getting a gauge of how close they really are. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear; it still applies to the camera, too. So we’re still trying to figure that out.”
Buescher also brought up another area that he believes NASCAR needs to address before next season: heat inside the race car. Probst acknowledged that needs to be worked on, and said the series took “big swings” during the afternoon session to find a direction.
“It’s pretty warm, so we’re working on trying to cool it off,” said Buescher. “We’ve got some different hose configurations, so we’re going through those trying to alleviate some of the heat inside. Aside from that, once you get strapped in, it doesn’t feel a whole lot different than any other race car.”
As much as drivers like Buescher and Denny Hamlin agree that the fundamentals don’t change from one race car to another, there are nuances to learn.
“Your vision is a little different,” Hamlin said. “The shifting is going to be different, especially when you go into road courses. So, you’re going to want to get as many reps as you can to learn that. Any chance that I can get to get in it to be better acclimated, the better off I’ll be.”
“I would say it’s kind of like jumping into the unknown,” Cole Custer said. “There’s so many things you don’t know what it’s going to be like. It’s pretty much rethinking the whole way we race. We’re going over things we never would have thought of to go over with our other car. Just a lot of sorting through things. I think it was awesome to get into the draft and see what’s similar and what’s different.”
Other drivers at the test were Austin Dillon, Logano, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Daytona was also the first time that more than two cars have been on track at the same time.
“We obviously have a list of things to work on coming out of here,” Probst said. “We’ll probably come back here in January and do another test with more teams, it’s an important track for us to get right. We’ll have a good number of teams, possibly 26 or more.”