As NASCAR and its Cup Series teams continue to put the Next Gen car to the test — no pun intended — ahead of the 2022 season, the gremlins appear to be getting ironed out.
One of the issues was a steering rack issue with the car discovered last month during a two-day test on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course. It prompted NASCAR not only to consult with the teams but use manufacturer resources and those from the sports car world to help find a solution to the vibration. In a return to the Roval last week to make sure it would work, NASCAR added a piece to the return line going back to the reservoir that eliminated the issue.
It’s resulted in a little less stress to start a two-day organizational test on the Charlotte oval this week.
“I don’t know of any reports today of steering issues,” said NASCAR senior vice president for racing innovation John Probst on Wednesday evening. “We’ve had some of ‘it’s too stiff’ or ‘too soft,’ but (the teams) are adjusting that with the torsion bars … but nothing near or even remote to what we had here at the Roval. And then when we did the Roval test, just confirmed that it was fixed on the road course tracks as well.”
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) November 18, 2021
Another issue has been a topic of conversation for months. Drivers are not comfortable with the heat inside the car’s cockpit, so NASCAR has been working through different designs to help the airflow better.
Many of the problems centered on the air that came from the hood exhausts being sucked back into the cockpit. Among the changes to get the air moving around the car and the driver is a Lexan piece next to the window net to deflect air from the window. There were also changes with some undertray pieces, and some cars are running shorter exhaust pipes.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) November 17, 2021
A significant change was putting slots in the rear windshield, which gets a lot of air through the cabin. However, there’s also been an unintended consequence of those slots that NASCAR will work on during Thursday’s test.
“(It) adds a lot of drag to the car, so overnight, we’ll be going to a shorter spoiler,” said Probst. “We kind of knew that was going to be a potential issue coming in here, but we wanted to get the first day, evaluate the magnitude of changes. And it’s obviously a cool day, so I don’t think we were going to have anyone getting out complaining about heat. Right now, we’re relying on the data.”
The spoiler will go from 8 inches to 7 inches. It’s expected to add 30 horsepower to the package (teams are running the 550-horsepower intermediate package).
Wednesday did not go entirely smooth. Austin Dillon wrecked his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in a slippery Turn 2 less than 30 minutes into the session. Dillon was uninjured, and Probst categorized it as an “above average impact for the course of the weekend,” and the front bumper crushed the way it was designed to do.
“We felt like the car performed very well,” said Probst.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) November 17, 2021
Dillon’s car was taken back to the Childress campus for repairs and returned to the track before the end of Wednesday’s session. Dillon got back on track with an hour left in Wednesday’s session.
There were also spins by Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, and one of the Rick Ware Racing cars. Larson spun in the morning getting up to speed on the apron and later in the day in Turn 4. In a video posted on the Hendrick Motorsports official Twitter page, Larson said it was “a little bit of a handful.”
Alex Bowman said the difficulty of driving the Next Gen car by yourself versus the previous car is “way, way harder.” Bowman said drivers could slide it around a little bit, but the line to cross is much narrower before spinning out. He expects drivers will crash more than usual with the Next Gen car because it’s harder to drive.
According to Probst, NASCAR doesn’t want the cars to be easy to drive.
“We’ve always said we want the best drivers running up front,” said Probst. “I think when you look at a lot of the changes what we’ve made with the car, a lot of the side force that used to be in the car is gone, so it’s not as forgiving as it’s been before. You saw some of that this morning; we had a lot of spins. I’m not saying that was all car, but definitely, the cars are a bit edgier.
“I would expect over time as they dial the setups in, that’ll get better. But certainly, with the lack of side force, that will be something they’ll have to get used to with respect to how the car drives and how it recovers, and how when it’s loose, how far you can let it get loose and let it slide and things like that. Which they’ll do.”
Following the Charlotte test, teams will travel to Phoenix for one December 14 and 15 and then one at Daytona on January 11 and 12. Other organizational tests are expected at Las Vegas, Martinsville, and Homestead.