PREVIEW: Time Is Running Out On NASCAR’s Efforts To Make The Next Generation Work
Time is running out and the Next Gen race car still needs some work.
âThere are some issues, let’s be honest,â said Martin Truex Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing. âThe car is not where it needs to be. People are jostling each other. We need to make some changes. We have to improve it so that we can run with it and put on a show for the fans.
âSo no one knows what it’s going to be yet. How do you understand something that is still changing? It’s going to be interesting, to say the least.
It is early December and the anxiety level still seems high. Even after having had an extra year to prepare for the pandemic, there seems to be a lot to do and little time to do it. In addition, so many questions and unknowns about 2022 that will not be answered anytime soon.
As Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick noted last week at the season-ending NASCAR Awards Show in Nashville, the sales pitch on the car is over and the reality of putting it on the track is here. It means taking the search for solutions to your problems seriously.
Next Gen has been tested time and time again since its first track launch in late 2019 with Austin Dillon. Development trials. Tire test. A handful of cars for an organizational test. And now the teams are putting the cars they’ve built to the test.
But for every step forward the industry seems to be taking with a new vehicle, like setting a vibration with the steering rack or working to make the cockpit cooler, other issues remain. The most recent test, held last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway, had more than 20 participants, but some dissatisfaction with what was seen led officials to change the testing schedule.
Each manufacturer – so three cars – will be on track later this week on the Charlotte oval. The teams will then return to the track on December 15 and 17 for further testing. There is a hiatus on December 16 to assess the data. Testing will take place in January at Daytona (11-12) and Phoenix (25-26).
âFor the most part it’s pretty fun to drive. We just had a few issues with that when we put a bunch of them on the track, âTruex said. “They have to work on it and fix it.”
There are 60 days until the cars hit the track at LA Coliseum for Busch Light Clash practice and qualifying. There are 75 days until the Daytona 500.
The clock doesn’t stop for anyone. The racing season is approaching whether it’s all wrapped up or not. It goes without saying that the hope is that the car will be as ready as possible to go into battle.
âThey have to have more power,â Harvick said. âThey just aren’t at the particular speed they need (to be). From my point of view, there is no problem with the 670 (power pack). But having to lift the throttle in (laps) 3 and 4 definitely made an improvement. I think anytime you can let go of the throttle it’s a good thing for the race.
Harvick can’t get enough power, and if he was in charge, Harvick would have sent a memo about having more power a long time ago. It’s hard to find a driver who doesn’t want as much power as possible.
âI keep putting my hand up for maximum power and to keep the downforce the same wherever we go,â said Kurt Busch, now of 23XI Racing. âWhy I like it is if we run a mile and a half like Charlotte and I release the throttle, I know where the aero is. At Darlington we had little downforce, and I rolled into turn 3 and almost hit the wall because there is no drag to slow the car down. I wish it was a little more consistent, but I don’t know if it’s possible.
Some have said that the car is more difficult to drive. While there is nothing wrong with that for someone like Harvick, the struggle to properly balance the car continues.
âIf you can do it driving well in Charlotte it will probably drive well like most of the miles and a half you do,â he said.
TIC Tac. Time is not going to stand still, and neither will the evolution of the Next Gen car, it seems, before it hits the track.
“They’re going to have to try everything,” said Gibbs driver and 23XI Racing team owner Denny Hamlin. âI think it’s going to be very, very important for NASCAR to be really organized in this Charlotte test and honestly just come up with a plan as good, bad or indifferent, that’s what we’re going to do because supply chain issues are our concern. No more changesâ¦ we’re 60 days away from the race. We’re nervous. We need to lock it up. “
âI think we collectively have some great ideas on how to improve this racing and drive better. The COT (ED: Car of Tomorrow, used by the Cup Series between 2008 and 2012) was a mess when we started it, and it got better; I hope we can do the same with this car.