One day after focusing on the present of the 2021 season, many teams in the NASCAR Cup Series returned to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval on Monday and Tuesday to focus on the imminent future: the introduction of the Next Gen car and the fine-tuning of it before its debut in 2022.
On Monday and Tuesday, a two-day test of the NASCAR Next Gen car was held at Charlotte, with a total of 21 teams from 18 organizations participating. After heat inside the cockpit was a major issue in last month's Next Gen test at Daytona, the two-day test saw NASCAR introduce several concepts to try and alleviate such issues, namely the exhaust being moved forward, slots in the front and rear glass and new vents underneath the car.
Speaking to the media, drivers expressed satisfaction with the heat mitigation devices installed.
"I didn't think the heat was that bad ... When we started this morning, I actually commented that I was cold. I started turning stuff off in the car," Tyler Reddick told reporters in Charlotte. "So I think it's a good solution for the racing or the types of racing that create a lot of heat inside the car. It's good to know that that's gonna work."
According to Dustin Long of NBC Sports, the biggest issue faced by teams in testing was with the car's steering racks. Drivers reported feeling a vibration in the steering wheel, and the No. 12 Team Penske team had to change steering boxes after driver Ryan Blaney reported a loss of power steering.
While there were some positives to be taken from the Next Gen car's performance on a road course -- one particular plus was the ability to corner and the independent rear suspension eliminating the dreaded "wheel hop" under braking -- the steering rack issues presented a technical glitch to be worked through.
"Seems like some guys have it all the time, some guys only have it some of the time. We've been on both sides of it, I think we're on steering rack four or five," Alex Bowman said. "So we're working really hard at trying to fix it. And I think the advantage of having so many cars here and so many people here is that there's a ton of smart people working on fixing it. Because obviously we've all got to get that dialed in.
"It's definitely been a headache, but that's why we're here to test. Nothing goes perfectly, and it's a new design. We've just got to get it worked out."
From an on-track standpoint, Monday and Tuesday's tests went smoothly for participants, with no major accidents to speak of. Chase Briscoe was fastest on day one with a speed of 104.115 MPH, while the second day of testing saw the Joe Gibbs Racing combo of Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. top the charts at 106.296 MPH. Both speeds were faster than the Charlotte Roval track record of 103.198 MPH, which was set by William Byron in 2019.
According to a report by Zack Albert of NASCAR.com, factors that contributed to faster speeds than the current generation Cup cars included the Next Gen car's bigger brakes and tires, faster shifts due to the car's sequential gearbox and cooler track conditions during testing.
Next Gen testing also saw NASCAR offer updates on the rules package for the 2022 season.
- For road courses, short tracks, and ovals up to the size of Darlington Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway, Cup cars will feature an engine output of 670 horsepower (down from 750 HP) and a four-inch rear spoiler
- For intermediate-size tracks, the engine output will be 550 HP with an eight-inch spoiler
In addition to previously scheduled tests at the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval (Nov. 17-18), Phoenix Raceway (Dec. 14-15) and Daytona International Speedway (Jan. 11-12), NASCAR also announced plans for tire tests of the Next Gen car at Bowman Gray Stadium, Wythe Raceway and the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Bowman Gray test will be done in preparation for the Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum, while the Wythe test will be conducted to test the Next Gen car on dirt.
According to NASCAR senior vice president of racing innovation John Probst, three more organizational tests are likely to be scheduled.