Drivers Say New Cars Will Be A New Challenge

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 6 2021

Driver and team owner Denny Hamlin says the Next Gen cars unveiled on Wednesday will test teams and drivers. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A myriad of changes found in the Next Gen car unveiled Wednesday by NASCAR and the Cup Series three manufacturers could present the drivers with numerous challenges as well as opportunities.

NASCAR champion Chase Elliott has yet to test Chevrolet’s new Camaro ZL1, but admits he may have to change his driving style. Joey Logano, who drove the Next Gen car 1 ½ years ago when it was in its infancy, views the new Ford Mustang as an opportunity. While Denny Hamlin, the current point leader and a Toyota team co-owner, considers the new car a challenge with success coming to the driver and team that adapts the quickest.

Unlike the current Cup car, the new vehicle that will make its debut in 2022 contains independent rear suspension, rack and pinion steering, larger brakes and five gears instead of four. The new transaxle combines the transmission and rear gears into one package, thus allowing the incorporation of electrification in the future.

The car’s bottom is sealed with an underwing and rear diffuser, which NASCAR says will help with handling in traffic and reduce “dirty air.” Hood louvers will allow teams to maximize engine performance independent of aerodynamics. The front and rear clips bolt onto the car’s center section.

The cars sport 18-inch aluminum wheels and wider tires, which will allow softer tire compounds. It also has a symmetrical, composite body. NASCAR says the symmetrical body will reduce aerodynamic forces, putting the emphasis on race car setup and driver control. The composite body also is more durable than the metal currently used, as is evidenced in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series.

“Any time there’s change, there’s opportunity,” said Logano, the series 2018 champion. “We have an amazing opportunity in front of us to redo everything. Talking about the way we race, strategy. You have to be willing to look outside the box and outside of your comfort zone and not be stubborn to what you know works now. There’s a good chance that might not work anymore. It’s going to be a very, very challenging year for every race team out there, drivers included. 

“You’re not going to get beat by someone having lighter spindles or have a part or a piece that you can’t develop or your team cannot financially invest in. That’s not going to be your excuse anymore.”  

  Elliott, who is in his sixth full-time Cup season, admits a driver might have to “reinvent” himself.

“There might be things and habits that I do today … that work and you can get away with that might not be an option next season,” Elliott said. “I think it’s going to be tough, but I think the good guys will figure it out, as I think they always do and have over the years. That’s not to say it won’t be difficult. I think it will be a challenge for everybody.”

However, Elliott acknowledges that those just entering the Cup Series might not find the adaptation as difficult as someone who has been driving in stock car racing’s premier series for five, 10 or 15 years because they possess no “bad habits” that will need to be broken. Things considered normal with the current car might not apply to the new one, he noted. Even the feel the driver wants in the car might be different. In regards to the sequential gearing, Elliott doesn’t believe switching from the four-speed H-pattern will be a problem.   

  Hamlin considers the move to the Next Gen car merely another step in a driver’s career evolution.

“Race car driving is race car driving. It’s just a different machine,” Hamlin said in quoting his father. 

“What I really took a lot of pride in, when everything different got thrown my way, I felt like I adapted quickly. I think that’s where, I, hopefully, will shine in this; that I can use my experience and information that we have to adapt to this whole new machine quicker than everyone else. Cocky drivers believe we’re better than everyone else, we’re going to adapt quicker than everyone else, and that’s what I believe.”

NASCAR has scheduled multi-car tests for August at Daytona, October at Charlotte and the ROVAL, and November at Phoenix. The possibility of a January 2022 test at Daytona also exists.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 6 2021
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