CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR teams wrapped up the first day of testing with the Next Gen car on Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval, getting a clearer view of what’s to come in the 2022 Cup Series. Part of that learning came from several hours of on-track shakedowns and part came from John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation.
Probst provided several updates about the Next Gen model’s progress during a midday availability, including news about the rules packages to be used next year. The update included briefings about what competition officials are working on with the car’s crashworthiness, its ability to disperse heat in the cockpit and reports of steering vibrations during testing.
“By and large, I would say we’re pretty pleased with what we see here,” Probst said. “We do have some guys working through steering, for sure. That’s something we’ll continue to work with them. It is something that they’re making some progress on right now, and it’s why we test, right? … This is the first time we’ve had this many cars run by the teams at the track. We had eight at Daytona, but here we have 21, so we’re going to find these little things here and there and that’s why we test.”
Monday’s session was completed without major incident on the 2.32-mile circuit, wrapping up eight minutes early because of increasing darkness in the course’s infield sections. Day 2 of testing began Tuesday at 9 a.m. ET, with the majority of the session scheduled to be live-streamed.
Among the Next Gen topics discussed Monday:
• NASCAR released two components to the 2022 rules package to teams on Oct. 1.
For road-course events, short tracks and ovals up to the size of Nashville and Darlington, teams will use a target engine output of 670 horsepower and a rear spoiler height of 4 inches — the same configuration teams tested with Monday. For intermediate-sized tracks, the horsepower target will be 550 with an 8-inch spoiler.
Probst said the 2022 rules package for the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega has not been determined. The new car has been tested twice at the 2.5-mile Daytona oval — last December for single-car runs, and last month with eight cars to gather information in the aerodynamic draft.
Despite the reduction in horsepower from the current-generation car to the 2022 model, speeds were notably faster with Next Gen. Bigger tires, better brakes, cooler track conditions and potentially faster shifts with the car’s sequential gearbox all factored in.
Chase Briscoe turned the fastest lap on Monday’s speed chart at 104.115 mph at a time of 1 minute, 20.219 seconds — a figure that’s unofficial without technical inspection for the two-day test. That compares to the pole speed of 103.198 mph (1:20.901) set by William Byron the last time qualifying was held here in 2019, and the fastest lap from Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 –a 100.145 mph clocking by race winner Kyle Larson.
• Probst provided updates based on the findings of a June 30 crash test at Talladega Superspeedway, where a Next Gen model was fitted with a test dummy and driven into a retaining wall by robotic means.
Competition officials cleared the chassis for distribution to teams July 19, but Probst said Monday that measures are being taken to reduce the rigidity of the front and rear frame sections (or “clips”), allowing them to better disperse energy in a crash impact.
“So for example on the front clip, what we’ve done there is taken existing crossmembers and put little football cuts, we call them, so basically drilled holes in the crossmember,” Probst said. “We modified, one of the lower legs have like a little kick-in, with the idea of allowing more deformation in a crash situation. The idea there is we’re trying to spread the deformation out over a longer period of time, and actually, when we’re trying to work on the rear it actually helps when you work on the front as well. So, if, if we’re able to spread out the load earlier in the crash, it actually helps later in the crash.”
Probst said he anticipated teams having new or retrofitted parts with those structural changes to the frame and suspension in place when teams return for an organizational test on Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval Nov. 17-18. He also added that the changes are not expected to alter the car’s durability during close-contact racing.
“We were all pleased to continue moving forward with the test plan and releasing cars for testing. As we do, like I said, make a punch list of things that we would like to make better, not all of them related to the severity of the crash but sometimes just how things break and in the like. So we’ve implemented some of those changes to the clip, and to some of the suspension parts.”
• Officials worked to address concerns about building heat inside the cockpit that arose during the most recent Next Gen test. Though Monday’s conditions — overcast and with temperatures barely breaking 70 degrees — didn’t mimic the late-summer swelter from Daytona, four teams took part in trying alternate cooling solutions.
Among those potential remedies were shorter exhaust pipes, which ended just before the door area — keeping the exhaust system from heating the area under the driver compartment. Probst said teams also tried out slots in the front and rear glass, plus added vents to improve air flow between the undertray and chassis.
• Probst also addressed issues that teams reported with their cars’ steering, saying the competition department is learning more about the vibration.
“As of right this moment, and including all the testing that we’ve done, none of that has been a durability issue,” Probst said. “It’s been more of a case of like set screws not holding tension on torsion bars and things like that. But I feel like we’ll fix that, move on at some point here, especially now that we’ve had more teams involved.”
• Probst also provided insights into potential additions to the Next Gen testing schedule, with the vehicle’s competition debut less than four months away. That included planned stops for tire testing at Bowman Gray Stadium’s quarter-mile, the dirt high banks of Wythe Raceway in Virginia and the reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Four more organizational tests are in the works, to be added to the existing Next Gen test schedule.
• Two cars — the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford driven by Austin Cindric and the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet driven by Daniel Suarez — featured chrome numbers or accents on their test cars’ paint schemes. A NASCAR spokesperson said reflective numbers will be allowed next season, but bound by certain parameters coming to the 2022 rule book and subject to approval by competition officials.