The introduction of a new NASCAR Cup Series car has gone from being a concept in the distant future to a reality in the impending future. And as such, the process of testing and fine-tuning the NASCAR Next Gen car has ramped up as the the debut of the Cup Series' all-new car concept looms ever nearer.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, eight drivers and teams tested the Next Gen car at the Daytona International Speedway, completing the car's first major multi-car test on a superspeedway. Participants in the test included Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing), Chris Buescher (Roush Fenway Racing), Joey Logano (Team Penske), William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports), Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing), Ross Chastain (Chip Ganassi Racing), and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing).
The primary objective of the test was for NASCAR to develop a suitable tire with Goodyear and to ensure that speeds were within NASCAR's targets in both single-car and multi-car runs. To the latter end, NASCAR made an overnight change to the engine's tapered spacer and the car's spoiler, making both smaller in order to achieve a desired reduction in speed.
Reviews from drivers skewed generally positive, with the ability to pull up and maneuver in the draft and heat within the cockpit being the two sticking points to work on. A new rearview camera was also mentioned as a positive.
"All in all ours drove really good and felt comfortable. Just trying to figure out how we're going to make better racing," Stenhouse said. "Making sure that we can pass, get good runs, create good racing. I was really happy, I thought we all did a good job getting out there and working the lanes, working the bottom, top, pushing each other. Really tried to simulate as much as we could a real race and everybody did a good job of that."
"Handling-wise, learning some stuff, still working on the steering, it's a little quick. But all in all, I think it was a great test," Dillon said. "We didn't wreck any of these cars, which is good. We learned a lot."
With six months left before next February's Daytona 500, this week's test is just one of several steps NASCAR is set to take to ensure the Next Gen car's debut goes smoothly and produces a compelling race. John Probst, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Innovation, stated that another Daytona test on a much larger scale would be forthcoming during the winter.
"We'll probably come back here in January and do another test with more teams, (Daytona's) an important track for us to get right," Probst said. "We'll probably have a good number of teams, possibly 26 or more."
While the debut of the Next Gen car was pushed back a full year due to COVID-related issues, some tangible progress has already been made in the inner-workings of the car and its driveability compared to the current generation of Cup car first introduced in 2013. Chris Buescher, who ran a single-car Next Gen test at Daytona last December, highlighted the car's steering as the greatest area of improvement.
"That part's much better. To the point where it's a lot more predictable, a lot more driveable," Buescher said. "The steering is way quicker than anything I've ever driven, so we're doing our best to slow it down as much as possible. I think we've run out of adjustments, unfortunately, so it is quicker than I would have liked. But we'll work on ways to try to get around that, I don't know if there is anything.
"At least now the steering is predictable, feels more like you would expect it to and also a little bit more like our current car."
The two-day test of the Next Gen car also carried with it a glimpse into the future look of Cup cars from an aesthetic point of view: While some teams wrapped their cars with their current paint schemes, others designed their cars according to NASCAR's new number placement, which will see the number of each car move from the door further up towards the front wheels in 2022.