NASCAR drivers are still learning Next Gen cars at midseason

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

Four months into the next gen era NASCAR Cup Seriesthe question is not so much what teams have learned as it is about what they need to learn.

The one thing they have learned: It is hard to predict. And that’s not a bad thing.

Drivers are still learning how to drive cars from race to track.

“I would have bet a million dollars … that Charlotte was going to be horrendous,” said former Cup champion Kevin Harvick. “And then all of a sudden, we have a racetrack that runs up to five or six years in the run.

“And so I quit trying to guess what my car is going to be like, what race is going to be good, what race is going to be bad because there is no rhyme or reason for it. And I don’t think so.” I think that’s just the case with so many new variables that we all just don’t understand, and it’s kind of trial and error. “

Kevin Harvick on the Next Gen car so far

Kevin Harvick on the Next Gen car so far

Kevin Harvick can’t predict how the next gen car will race at any given track as the teams are still learning the vehicles they started racing this year.

Maybe the cars are still a little snappy once they get loose, and that saving them from spinning and crashing is more difficult, which has created more cautions and restarts. That being said, while it may be easier to make a mistake, it seems there are times when a driver needs to make a mistake, especially on the short tracks.

“Passing [in] traffic – this car is worse in traffic than previous car, ”he said Kyle Busch. “I feel like all the underbody stuff is not what we wanted it to be. The cars drive fine. They’re good.

“The pleasant part of it is that they have good air and drive when they drive. But what if we were striving for better cars and traffic, and we didn’t?” in myself and around our team. “

Kyle Busch on the Next Gen car so far

Kyle Busch on the Next Gen car so far

Kyle Busch says the Next Gen car is hard to drive, which is good, but it is also hard to pass even if you have another car.

Granted, there have been drivers who have struggled as much as Busch – Ryan Blaney has recently been able to come to the back of the field at Gateway. He said he needed a really fast car (the fastest car in the field) to do it.

To help with short tracks, NASCAR tested Tuesday and Wednesday at the Martinsville Speedway with a plastic underbody and no extensions on the rear diffuser – the setup that used to be the Bristol dirt track. Busch, Austin Cindric and Tyler Reddick participated in the test which Goodyear also tested and tested several tire combinations, giving drivers more ability to pass. Another test, where it will be one or two cars per organization, is set for August.

Tires are essentially a new car, with teams trying to find the sweet spot of camber and air pressures that will create the tires blowing out.

Tire failures following several years of hard hits. Goodyear has recommended air pressures, but teams often go below them for speed in the quest. The tires this year do not have internal liners because NASCAR expanded the wheels from 15 inches to 18 inches in diameter but kept a similar circumference, there was not enough space to put goodyear to an inner liner. The wheels are also designed for inner liners.

“The left rear blows out when we can’t control the car – that’s the biggest issue we have right now,” said former Cup champion Joey Logano. “We’ve just got to work on that. … As you turn into the corner, you’re a passenger at that point.

“You used to be able to save it. [It’s a] Learning curve with the new car, but you have to fix something to change. I don’t know what it is. I have ideas. “

Joey Logano on Tire blowouts The Next Gen

Joey Logano on Tire blowouts The Next Gen

The One Area Joey Logano Wants To Know When NASCAR Comes To Work When It Comes To The Next Gen Car is the number one left rear tire blowouts and the inability to save.

All new cars are going to have issues, but NASCAR’s goals have been achieved in many ways in this car. It went from cars built to teams to cars now assembled by teams to almost all the same parts and pieces from there to only one NASCAR-selected vendor for each part and piece.

There have been 12 winners with parity – six from organizations, including two second-year organizations Trackhouse Racing and 23XI Racing – in the first 16 points race of the season.

“I think it’s important that the next Gen car, we won’t be talking about Trackhouse Racing, is probably the most probable we’ll be talking about 23XI,” said Trackhouse driver Daniel Suárez, who won at Sonoma.

“The Next Gen Car has a lot of opportunities for current new teams. I’m sure it’s going to continue to do so. I think that’s been an extremely, very important factor.”

Trackhouse’s Ross Chastain won the same car at the Circuit of the Americas road course and the high-banked Talladega Superspeedway oval. In the past, a team would never have brought the same car to those two tracks.

Logano crew chief Paul Wolfe, after Logano won the Gateway, did not even know when the car had been raided.

“I don’t know what’s on top of my head,” Wolfe said. “That just means it doesn’t matter. There are no cars that we take for granted. Something’s not quite right here, but for sure this is just one run.

“This could be the same car we’ve raced at Daytona. That’s part of the reason we’ve been looking forward to being able to track-specific cars. to the other. “

Hendrick Motorsports President Jeff Andrews, who noted that teams are still scrambling to get cars assembled, says they haven’t screwed up everything.

“Obviously, as everyone knows, all of these race teams are struggling right now to get the cars together,” Andrews said. “Getting to the racetrack and the parts and pieces and components is an issue – just the global supply chain issues of the world are an issue outside the parts and pieces of this race car.”

The car is hoped to become more economical in the ensuing years. As parts and pieces are tweaked for improvements, as well as more anticipated for more crashes and damage, those in team leadership roles are more likely to spend more money. But they also know that there is really no way to project the cost of a car until they actually race it.

Because the teams will spend money on research and development, they should be able to cut costs.

Of course, teams spend all the money they can on sponsorship. Team co-owner and driver Brad Keselowski would prefer to spend more money on practice. For most weeks, teams get a 20-minute practice and then have very limited changes they can make before qualifying and the race. The idea was to create a two-hour practice-qualifying window for staff and officials to streamline work.

“We went from this extreme [of] Three or four hours of practice, a three-day weekend, and the other extreme of our way here [of] 15-minute warm-up, can’t-really-work-the-cars most weeks, ”Keselowski said.

“There’s a happy spot in the middle, and I think we should be working together.”

Keselowski wants more practice time

Keselowski wants more practice time

While meeting with the media in early June, Brad Keselowski lobbied for more practice. He thinks why he needs it.

Keselowski feels they can get more practice during a race weekend and not wear out. With only one weekend off, a 37-week schedule allows teams to start the year with a plan to avoid burnout for an additional weekend or two off the season.

And that brings another challenge to the teams with the new car – they are now learning what positions they need in the shop and on the road. Many teams are hiring in the face of challenges. With the next-gen car, many crew members have been anticipating out-of-work and non-racing mechanical and engineering roles for the rest of the industry, which now offer comparable pay and less travel.

Andrews said the racing industry has not been immune to the labor challenges. These are the most efficient and best practices for learning the new car (not to mention the supply chain issues that cause delays in getting the cars ready) and making it difficult for teams to create consistent work schedules.

“Not just NASCAR, but the world is going through this change right now. It’s just a different environment and a different thought process, and it’s getting more and more difficult for us young men and women to come here to racetrack and do this Three days a week, ”Andrews said.

“It’s just a different world out there at a different time. … The challenge is the other things that are out there that can provide you with work or home. Night or Friday morning and coming to a racetrack. “

What to watch for

With temperatures in the 90s and the heat index predicted to be over 100 degrees in Nashville, this will be the weekend that NASCAR did last fall to help drivers combat the heat.

So far, the cars have not turned into ovens. The additional windshield vents and a shortened exhaust pipe before the issue with the frame rail would heat to untouchable levels.

Extreme conditions remain to be seen.

The hotter weather can also impact the car itself.

“The big concerns are your gearbox and your braking,” said Steve Letarte, a former Cup crew chief and NBC analyst. “Engine temperature, it’s hard to adjust to the course of the day.

“So while you’re not allowed to add tape to the grille, you can restrict some air flow downstream, and it’ll be interesting to see if all the teams and manufacturers understand the efficiencies they have in cooling the engine.”

Thinking out loud

Speedway Motorsports founder Bruton Smith leaves a legacy that no idea is too wild to think about.

Smith, who died Wednesday at age 95, was the first track operator to light a racetrack as big as the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He oversaw several tracks of expansion, such as the Bristol Motor Speedway and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the building’s Texas Motor Speedway.

Smith loved big, bold ideas. He wanted his speedways to be where the fans loved.

He was a shrewd businessman and certainly had his battles with NASCAR brass and local governments as he grew up with his racetrack empire, which is now run by his son, Marcus.

He was deserving of his NASCAR Hall of Fame honor before his induction in 2016, and no matter what your view of Smith, there is no doubt that NASCAR – where it races and how the tracks operate – would have been very different without his leadership.

Social spotlight

They said it

“The Cup Series will do away with the confidence of a really good job, so anything you do is definitely a good thing to do.” – Cup rookie Todd Gilliland

Bob Pockrass has spent many days covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene Magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Bob Pockrass with the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter for Sign Up!

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