25 Nov 2021 | 08:55 | NASCAR
As is often the case in the development of something new, the correction of one issue often leads to the unintended rise of another. That was the major story of NASCAR’s latest test of the Next Gen car at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where a small but significant change was made to the car ahead of its debut in 2022.
After the first day of testing saw lap times of around 31 seconds at 173 mph — noticeably slower than the 180 mph mark that earned Kyle Larson the pole at Charlotte in the 2021 season — NASCAR cut the speedway spoiler of the Next Gen car from eight to seven inches for Thursday’s test session.
According to a report by Dustin Long of NBC Sports, the reduction in speeds was attributable to the addition of vents in the rear window of the car in order to mitigate the extreme heat that drivers had felt in the cockpit at previous tests. While the vents had the intended effect of reducing the heat in the cockpit, they also added drag that slowed the cars down.
When NASCAR shortened the spoiler, the expectation was that the resulting speed change would be the equivalent of adding 30 horsepower to the car. Speeds were indeed faster the next day, with Aric Almirola topping Thursday’s test session with a lap time of 30.731 seconds and hitting 175.718 mph.
“Really the only thing was a little bit faster feel into the corner. It carried a little more speed,” Ross Chastain told reporters at the speedway. “We were wide open all the way around here at the time, so it had a tenth and a half for us — like thirteen or fourteen hundredths of lap time — but it was mainly just corner entry and it just didn’t bog down quite as much.
“We were only slowing down five or six miles an hour in the corner when we’re wide open. Lowering the whole car yesterday less than half of an inch was way more powerful than one inch of spoiler for sure.”
The other major storyline to come out of Next Gen testing was a direct illustration of the car’s performance in a crash, as well as its ability to be fixed in a short period of time. At the beginning of Wednesday’s test, Austin Dillon spun and hit the wall head-on in Turn 2, severely damaging the front end of his car.
The car was sent back to Richard Childress Racing’s shop in Welcome, N.C. where it was repaired and sent back to the track by late Wednesday evening.
Dillon was uninjured, and NASCAR expressed satisfaction with the way the Next Gen car held up in a crash as well as the condition of the driver.
“It was a really good feeling knowing that the car performed as designed. Looking at the front bumper on it, looked like it crushed the way it was designed to do,” NASCAR senior vice president of racing innovation John Probst said in a report by Terrin Waack of NASCAR.com. “… Talking with (Dillon), he felt like it wasn’t anything different than what he’s felt in the past. So I think that was certainly a good reference point.”
The results of the latest Next Gen test did not offer much of a preview of how the car will race, particularly on the mile-and-a-half ovals that have a significant presence on NASCAR’s schedule. However, it did offer a preview of how pit stops will be conducted with NASCAR’s change from five to just one lug nut on each wheel. Although the technical operation was different for tire changers, the operation of pit stops themselves did not appear dramatically different as teams practiced pit stops on Thursday.
NASCAR’s next organizational test of the Next Gen car is currently slated for mid-December, when the car will be run at Phoenix Raceway on Dec. 14 and 15.