From the moment the next-generation NASCAR Cup Series car pulled out of the garage on Monday afternoon on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, everyone in attendance knew this was unlike anything in the history of the discipline.
It simply sounded different, that feature thanks to a split exhaust unlike the current car, which uses a crossover pipe.
Feel the thunder!!! pic.twitter.com/Mb2QoAWVaa
But it’s more than just the audiovisual aesthetics, the Next-Gen is a different machine inside and out. The car features independent rear suspension, a departure from the tried and true solid axle rear suspension.
The car has 18” wheels and lower profile tires with a single-lug assembly. It’s a completely symmetrical car as well.
It features a sequential shifter instead of the traditional H pattern, the overall package more closely resembling elements of a sports car with stock car overtures.
For the first time ever, two of these cars shared the track at the same time, with the car nearing its 2022 debut during Daytona Speedweeks — following a one-year delay due to the pandemic.
But the extra year will allow NASCAR to finetune its new platform with tests like the one conducted on Monday at Charlotte with Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. behind the wheel.
Single lug. pic.twitter.com/KsUp6wHctZ
Busch, driving a Chevrolet powered car named Prototype 3 prepared by Richard Childress Racing, likened the experience to the “first day of school” due to how radically different the experience was from the status quo.
“With the sequential gearbox, that’s the most fun,” Busch said. “I love shifting through the gears. Sequentially, you have to go second, third, fourth, fifth, and then you have to go back fourth, third, second. It’s not your typical H-pattern that we’ve had. So, this gearbox is fun to drive.
“The brakes are much bigger, and the car can stop a lot quicker.”
Busch called the experience “fun, exciting and different.”
Truex was driving a Ford powered car prepared by the Action Express IMSA team, with noticeable visual differences between how the car was prepared, mostly in terms of where the vents were placed.
“There are so many differences about the way these cars are built from our style of racing or racing stock cars in general,” Truex said. “It’s going to be a huge learning curve for everyone, but when the car is balanced well, it feels really, really similar to what we have now. That’s a good thing. This is a slow road course.”
The cars will test again with the same two drivers on the oval configuration on Wednesday. That session will include several side-by-side restarts to see how the cars handle in dirty air.
“To see how it feels on the fast oval Wednesday will be a real eye-opener,” Truex added.
it’s #NextGen testing
🌙✨ 𝒶𝓉 𝓃𝒾𝑔𝒽𝓉 ✨🌙 pic.twitter.com/1ffpfzquns
As for the Roval tests, the cars were lapping in the 84 second range, comparable to what the current generation cars race pace on Oct. 11. It was several seconds slower than the 2019 race which was conducted using high downforce.
The engine was tuned to several different horsepower outputs between 550 and 750 on Monday.
While the sound of the exhaust drew mixed reviews online, Busch praised the aesthetic and said there was a throwback flair to it.
“To hear Truex go around and to hear the split exhaust, one pipes out the left, one pipes out the right, that’s an old school, Trans Am-style, thundering power,” Busch said.
Busch called the car “more nimble,” adding that it was a hybrid of a sports car and a traditional stock car. He said the closest comparison was to a V8 Australian Supercar, which makes sense considering NASCAR officials have made several trips to the southern hemisphere while seeking inspiration for the new machine.
“All the lap time that’s been gained is through the infield section with the independent rear suspension and the ability to shift quicker,” Busch said. “So, really the car, I don’t want to use the word ‘steroids,’ but the car is more effective, and the car is more sensitive to changes and to feel, even with a shorter side wall.
“The car is riding smooth, but you feel everything more vividly.”
Truex says the wider contact patch of the tire should evenly distribute heat, allowing for better tire wear and driver management.
“I’m able to feel we can make the tires softer already,” Truex said. “With the same car weight and more tire surface area, you can go softer on the compound. That’ll help out, especially on the ovals.
“What we all like about ovals is degradation and falloff. The newer paved tracks have been a challenge because the tires overheat so bad. Typically, the tires have to be so hard for a big track like this, the infield is like ice. Today, the infield is feeling better with more grip. It’s made this track more fun to drive and slip and slide the car more.”
Previous tests resulted in drivers calling the car twitchy, which generated concerns that passing would be a challenge due to a lack of predictability.
Neither Truex nor Busch felt those conditions on the Charlotte road course.
Truex did say the car occasionally “locks up, and car bottoms out on the oval,” but “hopefully we can figure that out.”
Busch indicated that the twitchiness is more of an oval concern, and he did feel it on the oval sections of the Charlotte Roval.
“They still have one more change to make things firmer, to have the sensitivity turned down a little bit more,” Busch said. “Right now, yes, it’s on the aggressive side for feel, twitchiness and movement. But, we’re at a road course for the first time and I like its movement back and forth, left to right.
“But, on the oval sections, it’s a little bit on edge and we need to try to perfect that and that’s more of the Wednesday focus. We will run different valving tonight to help with the steering just to see what that change does. But road course stuff, we’re in the box.
“Oval, we’ll know more on Wednesday.”
This was the sixth test of the Next-Gen car, which was previously on track Aug. 24-25 with Cole Custer turning laps at Dover International Speedway. Before that, William Byron turned laps on March 2-3 at Auto Club, Erik Jones at Homestead Miami on Jan. 15-16, Dec. 9-10 at Phoenix with Joey Logano and Oct. 8-9 with Austin Dillon at Richmond.
Action Express also conducted a test at the Daytona Road Course over the summer.
How do you feel about NASCAR’s Next-Gen car and are you excited to see it on track in 2022? Tell us in the comments section below.
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