Next Gen (NASCAR)
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Next Gen NASCAR
Next Gen
Austin cindric Next Gen (51429599897).jpg
Ford Mustang GT Next Gen car driven by Austin Cindric
CategoryNASCAR Cup Series
ConstructorUnited States Chevrolet
United States Ford
Japan Toyota
PredecessorGeneration 6
Technical specifications
ChassisSteel tube frame with integral safety roll cage
Length193.4 in (4,912 mm)
Width78.6 in (1,996 mm)
Height50.4 in (1,280 mm)
Wheelbase110 in (2,794 mm)
Engine5.86 L (358 cu in) V8 Naturally-aspirated FR layout
Transmission5 forward speeds + 1 reverse Sequential manual transmission
Weight3,200 lb (1,451 kg) minimum without driver and fuel
3,400 lb (1,542 kg) minimum with driver and fuel
FuelSunoco Green E15
TiresGoodyear
Competition history
Debut2022 Daytona 500

The Next Gen car, originally known as the Gen-7 car, is the common name for the racecar that is currently in use in the NASCAR Cup Series; its use starting in 2022.[1][2] A further evolution of the Generation 6 car, the Next Gen features improved aero and downforce packages while introducing new technologies on the track. In addition, the Next Gen is designed to lower costs and attract new original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to compete with Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota.[3][4][5][6]

The Next Gen body style was set to debut at the 2021 Daytona 500,[6][7] but when the COVID-19 pandemic postponed all NASCAR racing (and therefore, testing) until the month of May, the sanctioning body announced that the debut of the car would be pushed back a year to 2022.[1][2]

History

Testing sessions

The rules package of the 2019 season served as the starting point of the Next Gen's development.[1][3] The prototype, built by Richard Childress Racing using a generic body, was tested for the first time on October 8-9 by driver Austin Dillon at Richmond Raceway.[8][9]

The second test of the car was done at Phoenix Raceway on December 9-10 with Joey Logano behind the wheel.[1][10] Erik Jones drove the car in its third test, which was held at Homestead-Miami Speedway on January 15-16.[11]

The fourth test was at Auto Club Speedway with William Byron on March 2-3.[1][12] John Probst, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing innovation, commented that the "P3" prototype Byron tested was nearly 100 percent of the final product.[6][13]

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all racing was postponed through the month of May. Further testing that was scheduled to take place at Atlanta Motor Speedway with Clint Bowyer on March 16-17[14] was still on since the Next Gen testing was exempted from NASCAR's indefinite ban on all testing.[15][16] However, this decision was quickly reversed because of the situation as the Atlanta weekend was postponed shortly after the Rudy Gobert incident at an NBA game days prior that led to NASCAR's decision on postponement. A handful of manufacturers, teams, and drivers alike indicated their hope for the debut of the car to be postponed one year to 2022 as a result of the lost testing time.[17] On March 30, 2020, it was reported that NASCAR was taking a serious look at pushing back the rollout of the new car to 2022.[18] NASCAR officially confirmed these reports on April 2, 2020, and the car's debut was pushed back a year to allow for enough testing time after the postponement of all events through May.[2]

On August 17, NASCAR announced that testing of the Next Gen would resume at Dover International Speedway with Cole Custer on August 18-19, while another prototype, built by Action Express Racing, was tested at the Daytona road course with Felipe Nasr driving the day after the Daytona road course events.[1][19]

On November 10, NASCAR announced Charlotte Motor Speedway would host a pair of tests, with Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. participating in both with a pair of prototype chassis. The tests took place on November 16-18 with the first day being held on the road course, and the second day on the oval.[1][20]

On December 11, NASCAR announced the Next Gen's first superspeedway test at Daytona on December 14-15, with Chris Buescher as the test driver.[1][21] The Next Gen has successfully passed all speed tests. They were able to focus on the gearbox and other features. The next tests took place at Charlotte before further tire tests were carried out with Goodyear.[22]

On February 1, 2021, NASCAR announced that the development stage of the Next Gen was complete.[23] On April 1, Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota, brought prototypes of their Next Gen cars to Martinsville Speedway for testing alongside NASCAR's evaluation of Goodyear's wet-weather tires.[24] On April 6-7, Tyler Reddick conducted a Goodyear tire test for the Next Gen at Darlington Raceway.[25] During the final run of the testing, Reddick lost control of the car and scraped the outside wall, damaging the right side of the car.[26]

On June 30, Ross Chastain tested the Chevrolet Next Gen at Dover.[27]

NASCAR conducted further testing at Texas Motor Speedway on July 27-28, with Justin Allgaier in the Chevrolet, David Ragan in the Ford, and Drew Herring in the Toyota. Herring reportedly crashed the Toyota during the test.[28] On August 20, Christopher Bell tested the Toyota at Bristol Motor Speedway.[29] On August 31, eight teams were announced to do tire testing at Daytona on September 7-8. The teams are the Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon, the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota driven by Denny Hamlin, the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford driven by Chris Buescher, the Team Penske No. 22 Ford driven by Joey Logano, the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet driven by William Byron, the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford driven by Cole Custer, the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet driven by Ross Chastain, and the JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.[30]

On October 8, StarCom Racing announced that Kaz Grala would test the Next Gen at the Charlotte Roval on October 11.[31] Three days later, NASCAR announced the schedule of the Next Gen's testing before the 2022 season: November 17-18 at Charlotte, December 14-15 at Phoenix, and January 11-12 at Daytona.[32] On October 26, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, and Bowyer tested the Next Gen at Bowman Gray Stadium for Goodyear to determine the tires to use at the 2022 Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.[33] On October 27, Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports reported that Stewart Friesen would test the Next Gen at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Virginia to determine the tires to use for the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol.[34] On November 25, NASCAR rescheduled the Phoenix testing session to January 25-26, replacing the Las Vegas testing schedule. NASCAR also tentatively scheduled additional Charlotte sessions on December 15 and 17 for testing under cold weather conditions.[35] On November 30, Phoenix Raceway announced free admission for fans to watch the January 25 testing session.[36] On December 9, Friesen completed further Goodyear dirt tire testing at Lancaster Motor Speedway in Lancaster, South Carolina.[37]

During the Charlotte testing on November 17, Dillon's car sustained major damage after hitting the outside wall in turn 2 and sliding into the inside wall. Mechanics and engineers from all participating teams examined the wrecked car to assess the damage. Richard Childress Racing was able to return the car to its shop for repairs and send it back to the track later that night. "So, yeah, 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," said John Probst, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing innovation.[38] At Charlotte on December 15, Reddick lost control of his car and slammed on the sand barrels in front of pit road.[39] Following the Charlotte test sessions, NASCAR announced that teams will use the 670 horsepower and 4-inch spoiler package for intermediate tracks, short tracks, and road courses.[40]

On April 19, 2022, Bubba Wallace, Chastain, and Custer participated in a tire testing session at Charlotte in preparation for the 2022 Coca-Cola 600.[41] Kyle Busch, Daniel Suárez, and Aric Almirola are scheduled to do tire testing at Pocono Raceway on May 11.[42]

Unveiling and concerns

NASCAR unveiled the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Ford Mustang GT, and Toyota Camry TRD at The Park Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina on May 5, 2021, with Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, and Denny Hamlin representing their respective brands during the event.[1][43] On May 25, Öhlins was announced as the official shock absorber provider for the Next Gen.[44]

On July 8, rumors started to speculate that the Next Gen would be delayed until 2023 or 2024. This started when Steve Hmiel confirmed that during crash testing, the dummy in the car was "killed". Hmiel stated that the car may have been too stiff and had too few crush zones.[45] In response to the allegations, NASCAR said that the rumors had been happening for months. In a statement, NASCAR's John Probst said "[We] simulated some of the bigger incidents that we've had with the current Gen-6 car on the Next-Gen car. I'd say that we're pretty happy with where we're at. I won't get into the specifics of where we're at."[46][47][48][49] On July 19, NASCAR announced that distribution of the Next Gen chassis would begin that week.[50]

Following the Daytona testing, drivers expressed concern over the interior heat due to the placement of the exhaust directly under the seat.[51] To solve this, in November 2021 NASCAR added a front cooling duct to the cars (the front identification windshield was revised to allow for this change), among other changes.[52]

Heading into the first races of the 2022 season, the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum and the Daytona 500, another concern were raised regarding parts supply chain issues, partly due to the control parts rule introduced with the generation, as well as ongoing supply chain issues caused by the Omicron variant; it is reported that teams may face shortage of spare parts and backup cars for the beginning of the season.[53] For its part, NASCAR announced that the team that won the Daytona 500 in 2022 would get to retain their car for the rest of the season, with NASCAR instead scanning the winning car and placing an identical paint scheme wrap (complete with Victory Lane confetti) on a prototype that would be shown at the Daytona 500 Experience.[54] However, the Daytona 500 winning team, Team Penske, opted not to do so and instead handed over the exact winning car to the Daytona 500 Experience several weeks after the race.[55]

During the first two races of 2022, drivers lost several laps after experiencing tire failures, as the new wheels lack inner liners and the cars sit lower to the ground, rendering them unable to drive back to pit road. As a temporary solution, NASCAR allowed cars to be towed back to pit road during a caution.[56] Since the Next Gen car's inception, there have been several incidents when wheels fell off their cars on track, resulting in the crew chiefs of the affected teams being suspended for four races each.[57][58][59][60][61][62]

Prior to the 2022 GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, several teams failed inspection; it was revealed that the high temperatures and the brightness of the sun caused the Lexan windshields to expand. Bob Pockrass reported that the sun altered car bodies anywhere from 80/1000ths to 200/1000ths of an inch.[63][64]

Rule changes

On January 24, 2022, NASCAR announced a more stringent penalty system structure for the Cup Series. The penalty system is structured in three tiers from L1 to L3, with L3 reserved for the tampering and counterfeiting of Next Gen single-source vendor parts. L3 violations will result in a deduction of owner and driver points (including playoff points), revocation of playoff eligibility, crew member suspensions, or postseason bans.[65]

On March 24, Matt McCall, crew chief of the RFK Racing No. 6 driven by Brad Keselowski, was suspended for four races and fined US$100,000 for an L2 Penalty during post-race inspection after the 2022 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta. The penalty came under Sections 14.1 and 14.5 in the NASCAR Rule Book, both of which pertain to the modification of a single-source supplied part. In addition, the No. 6 team was docked 100 driver and owner points and 10 playoff points.[66] On April 13, Scott Miller, NASCAR's senior vice president of competition, explained that the repairs to No. 6's rear fascia did not meet original specifications, as a critical dimension of the part was altered.[67]

Debut

The Next Gen made its official debut at the 2022 Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum in Los Angeles, with Logano winning the exhibition race.[68]

The car made its points race debut at the 2022 Daytona 500, won by Austin Cindric. Numerous issues with the car cropped up during the race, including several cars having issues with wheels or tire rubber popping off, difficulty getting the center-locking lug nuts to go in, hood flaps flying off, and a crash that saw Harrison Burton flip, with many fans noting that the car stayed sideways for too long, as well as the flat undertray compared to past cars, both of which allowed enough air to get underneath the car to lift it off the ground. Earlier in the week during first practice, teams had exploited the independent rear suspension to skew the cars out of proportion to get better downforce and corner speed, which was compared to the "Twisted Sister" cars created by skewing the bodies of the Generation 4 cars out of proportion. Prior to pole qualifying, NASCAR clamped down on this practice.[69][70][71][72]

Planned Le Mans run

On March 17, 2022, NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports announced they will field a Next Gen at the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans as a special Garage 56 entry, with former crew chief Chad Knaus assigned as the program manager. This will mark the first time a NASCAR stock car will run at Le Mans since 1976, when a Dodge Charger driven by Hershel McGriff and his son Doug ran for two laps, and a Ford Torino owned by Donlavey Racing and driven by Dick Brooks, Dick Hutcherson, and Marcel Mignot retired after 104 laps.[73][74][75]

The announcement was criticized by Denny Hamlin, who took issue with NASCAR not informing other teams of the announcement. In addition, he noted that this gave Hendrick Motorsports an unfair advantage over other teams.[76]

On April 15, it was reported that Jeff Gordon was interested in participating at Le Mans, but he did not indicate that he would be part of the Next Gen program.[77]

Design

Aero and downforce packages

The Next Gen uses a stepped front splitter, aerodynamic vents on the hood, and a redesigned side skirt, all of which are designed to reduce the amount of side force in the cars. A notable addition to the Next Gen is the rear diffuser, which is set to be used in NASCAR for the first time. NASCAR has conducted various tests on the wind tunnel to have the car to generate more downforce using the rear diffuser. Adjustable aerodynamic components are also being used to accommodate the various track types in the schedule.[78][79]

Technological improvements

Spec chassis

Despite initial reports that the Next Gen will use a carbon fiber tub, NASCAR engineer Brandon Thomas clarified that the car will still use a steel space frame, but with a modular setup to allow faster setups.[80] Dallara was initially rumored to be the exclusive supplier of the new chassis, but it was revealed that Technique recently opened a shop in Concord, North Carolina, indicating that they will manufacture the chassis for NASCAR teams.[4][5]

Sequential transmission

The Next Gen has the traditional four-speed manual transmission replaced with a five-speed Xtrac Limited sequential manual transmission, similar to the type of transmission used in contemporary race cars (e.g., touring cars).[81][82][4]

Independent rear suspension

Much like the race cars used in IMSA, the Next Gen uses an independent rear suspension with 5-way adjustable Öhlins TTR dampers, instead of the solid rear axle used by previous generations.[4]

New wheel design

The single lug nut wheel used on Next Gen cars

On March 2, 2020, NASCAR announced that the traditional 15-inch steel wheel with the five-lug pattern will be replaced by a new 18-inch aluminum wheel that uses a single center-locking lug nut. The wheels are manufactured by BBS.[83][7][4][5][82] Prototypes tested before the announcement featured aluminum wheels, but with a five-lug pattern. Despite the reduction from five lug nuts to one, the extra torque required to secure the single lug nut has indicated that only a minimal effect is expected on pit stop timings.[84]

Since its recent inception, the Next Gen has had several wheel related problems, such as loose lugnuts causing wheels to fall off. The wheel design also quickly began facing criticism for how thin the tires are, which has led to drivers getting stuck after blowing tires during a spin.[85] Prior to the 2022 Daytona 500, NASCAR confiscated the wheels of Team Penske and RFK Racing. Roger Penske notified NASCAR that his team found inconsistencies on the wheels and modified the drive pin holes.[86] After the race, NASCAR announced that the two teams would not be penalized after the organization discussed with Next Gen suppliers and several teams about the wheel specifications.[87]

Mirrors

Aside from the standard rear and side mirrors, the Next Gen is now also equipped with a rear-facing camera, located just above the driver's rear window.[88]

Reception

Despite the safety concerns before the 2022 season, the car has received overwhelmingly good reviews from fans and drivers alike, with certain drivers, such as Brad Keselowski, enjoying the challenge that it brings with it being so hard to handle.[89] The entire NASCAR community has praised the car for its durability, as it has shown that it can take big hits without suffering day-ending damage. Often times, the team is still able to be competitive after taking hits that would've likely ruined their day in the previous cars. Many fans have also praised the improved racing in the Next Gen car, with races being more intense than ever. The car has also somewhat leveled the playing field as it was designed to.

However, fans and drivers alike have criticized the car for having several wheel related problems. In the first few races of the season, drivers who spun sometimes got stuck because their tires were flat and the tires were so thin that they could not drive to the pits, instead having to be towed back. Drivers such as Christopher Bell and Austin Dillon were furious about having their days ruined by needing to be towed back. This issue seemed to subside after the first few races of the 2022 season. However, wheels falling off cars continues to be a problem. This is typically a result of mistakes made on pit road, so NASCAR suspends pit crews for four weeks when wheels fall off. With so many instances of this since the inception of the Next Gen, people have speculated that the wheels are falling off so often due to a design flaw rather than mistakes by the pit crew.

References

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