Questions Still Abound After Next Gen Test

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 19 2021

The Nex Gen Cup cars were back on the tract, testing in Charlotte, this week. (File photo by Bob Leverone/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – After a two-day, nearly 20-hour test session for NASCAR’s Next Gen car at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Cup teams still find themselves with a large jigsaw puzzle to piece together before the 2022 season begins.

“This car we have there’s so many things that are new and different for everyone (that) you kind of start in a much bigger box on things that could affect the speed of the car.” Justin Alexander, the crew chief for Austin Dillon, said Thursday. “Anything from aerodynamics to the platform of the car to mechanical setups, springs and shocks and things of that nature, so really it’s more what does this car want? What does the driver need from this car? What can I give the car to make him go faster? What is he sensitive to? What does he respond do?

“We had a good handle on that with the other car. We knew what did what. We had kind of honed in on what areas to work in. With this new car, it’s just so brand new and new to us that we’re kind of looking at everything. We’re kind of making changes in all aspects, things we wouldn’t typically do on the old car just to kind of see what is what. We are kind of honing in on things as we test here.” 

Alexander noted that once they figured out a specific area, they optimized it and then proceeded to another.   

“Certainly, there are more questions that we’re going to have when we leave here, but we’re definitely learning and getting an understanding of what’s making this car drivable and faster,” Alexander continued. “There’s more things for us to work on right now (because) some things we don’t understand what does what. I think ultimately we’ll probably end up where we have a limited number of things to tune on, but right now it’s kind of a big box (because) we do have a lot of things to adjust.”

Throughout NASCAR’s history teams have been able to fabricate or construct a new piece they thought might benefit them. However, those days are gone. Two dozen vendors now supply the parts that comprise the Next Gen cars.

“The biggest thing about this car and this endeavor is that we want it now,” Ross Chastain said Thursday. “We have this world where everything is at our fingertips and this car is not at our fingertips yet. We are still a ways out. That’s why we’re testing and scheduling more testing. Now that the whole sport has their hands on it … the learning curve is sped up. (Still) it’s not instant gratification.”   

 Chastain pointed to the change in the tire’s sidewall height as causing him insecurities in the car.

“It’s what’s causing me to have to relearn how to drive the car along with everything else,” Chastain said. “The tire’s sidewall is so much shorter it reacts differently. That’s something we’re all learning together. I still have my same seat, helmet, headrest, gloves, HANS, shoes, everything, yet what it bolts to, everything is different. You can’t even measure how the seat-of-the-pants feel changed, even though we’re sitting in the same seat, but it feels different coming into us. We just have to learn all that.”

Chase Elliott described the car as a “pretty big learning curve.”

“I feel like in anything you drive typically the people who are the most comfortable being uncomfortable go the fastest,” Elliott said. “So I think identifying kind of where those points are and then how to maximize them is always the key and for me I’m still kind of working through that right now.”

Before the Feb. 6 Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum, NASCAR has tests scheduled at Phoenix, Daytona, a dirt track and Las Vegas. After the season begins, tests are planned for Martinsville and Homestead.

(Editor’s Note: Award winning journalist Deb Williams is in her fourth decade of covering motorsports. The former editor of NASCAR Winston Cup Scene and managing editor of GT Motorsports has also covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today, The Charlotte Observer and espnW.com. The 1990 and 1996 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year has authored five books and hosts the podcast “Racing Now and Then.”)


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 19 2021
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