David Wilson hadn’t attended a NASCAR test in years. But when it came to the two days Cup Series teams were going to spend running the Next Gen car at Daytona International Speedway earlier this week, the president of Toyota Racing circled the dates on his calendar.
“I was like, OK, this is going to be the next most important test because we haven’t taken a group onto the speedway before,” Wilson told RACER.
There indeed was a group on the Daytona high banks. On Tuesday, NASCAR organized a 10-lap drafting session with 16 cars that helped the sanctioning body lock in its superspeedway horsepower package for the season. It was the only drafting pack that NASCAR organized. All others that took place Tuesday or Wednesday were a collaboration between teams.
Wilson (pictured at right, above, with Denny Hamlin at the Toyota Next Gen launch last May) credited NASCAR with having a clear plan for Daytona. Once officials saw what they needed, they left the track open for teams to work on their own agendas.
From the beginning, Wilson has been one of the more outspoken members of the industry about the Next Gen car. It was supposed to debut in 2021, which Wilson thought was an overly optimistic goal to meet given the state of the sport with the COVID-19 pandemic. His concern was NASCAR salvaging the season, and adding in the workload of developing and building Next Gen would have been too much.
NASCAR delayed its debut until this year. The testing schedule of the car ratcheted up in 2021, and by the end of the year, teams were finally getting on track with their own vehicles. Daytona marked the third organizational test since the ’21 season ended. It was the first time a large pack of cars drafted together.
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However, there’s testing, and there is testing with a plan, which was important to Wilson. It’s all come together over the last few months to put Wilson at ease as the race season approaches.
“I feel, honestly, better — significantly better than I have in a long, long time,” said Wilson. “I have been candid and a bit outspoken as to our industry being behind in the development and being prepared to race in anger. The good news is I think we reached a point in late November (of) what I would call a low point where there was just a lot of chaos going on.
“We weren’t working together as an industry, and I think that the turning point actually happened at the championship banquet weekend in Nashville where Steve O’Donnell (NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer) and John Probst (NASCAR senior vp of racing innovation) pulled the industry together in one room, and we had the chance to have some candid conversation. It was a little bit of family therapy. Some venting. A lot of honesty. But what came from that was a bit of a paradigm shift in how we go testing, because what was lacking was some discipline in organization relative to how we go testing.
“In order to get this car ready to race, we need to work as one team, and what we needed was NASCAR to step forward and lead. Lead us and put a disciplined approach together and a test plan together. And sure enough, those two weeks in December when we tested at Charlotte were two of the best tests we’ve had with this new car, and I attribute that to the organization and discipline that NASCAR put behind it.”
The Charlotte tests led to the conformation of the aero package for intermediates, road courses and short tracks. Cup Series teams will use 670 horsepower with a four-inch spoiler. It changed from the original plan, which was more of the polarizing 550hp package. Superspeedway races at Daytona and Talladega, plus Atlanta, will be 510hp with a bigger spoiler.
Having the specs settled also makes Wilson breathe easier, and the move to more horsepower was a welcomed decision by Toyota’s chief.
“We’re feeling much better about it because for a while there we were at least three packages — we had 675, 550, 510,” said Wilson. “One of the learnings that came out of that December testing was on the engine, and honestly, it was a challenge. It’s presenting a significant challenge to some of the builders, Toyota certainly, because we were operating full speed ahead because NASCAR had defined that intermediate as a 550 package. Again, this is where supply chain (issues arise) because you can’t just turn on a dime. But bottom line, we came away with the reality that, hey, we’ve got to figure this out because we’re not going to be the ones that stop this train moving forward.
“The 670 is the right engine package, we believe, for intermediates, road courses and short tracks, and we’re figuring it out. So, look, a little discomfort, but we’re all having to deal with a little discomfort, and that’s just part of the price you pay.”