CONCORD, N.C. – The majority of the NASCAR Cup Series field, including all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers, descended on the Charlotte ROVAL earlier this week to text the Next Gen car. The newest Cup Series car models will hit the track next season, meaning all the drivers will have to get used to the mechanical and physical differences of this car.
Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson were testing the machine for the first time on Monday while Alex Bowman and William Byron had run tests in the Next Gen car earlier this year. Overall, the Hendrick Motorsports drivers were pleased with the progression of the car.
“It took a few laps to get up to speed and get used to it because you can drive it a lot differently than our normal car here, which was fun to back-to-back it racing (Monday) and then coming here (Tuesday) to practice,” Larson said.
Elliott needed a little bit of time to get used to the mechanics of the car, such as the different gear shifts and pedals. He noted the steering was something that needed a little extra work but liked how much knowledge he gained from the sessions.
“The car itself still kind of feels like a race car once you get going and work through some of those things,” Elliott said. “There’s obviously a lot of changes but it’s still a race car at the end of the day and I just need to get all those small, little details worked out and have them fine tuned.”
As with any new prototype, physical testing of the car is how NASCAR and all the hands involved in making the Next Gen car will ensure that it performs at a high caliber. Byron said the car is vastly different than when he tested it last winter and was pleased with the trajectory of improvements.
“We’ve learned quite a bit,” Byron said. “I’ve been impressed with how much you can hustle the car, and a lot of the things I came in with – question marks or uncertainties – haven’t really been there, and I’ve been able to really push the car hard. I’ve been happy about that, and I look forward to more time in the car so I can really kind of fine tune my craft in it. I think, overall, it’s been a positive so far. We’ve started to gain speed as we’ve (gone), too.”
The goal of any testing session is to make improvements. With four months to go before the 2022 season, there's a lot of time to fine-tune the cars.
“We have been on both sides of it – we are on steering rack four or five,” Bowman explained. “We are working really hard on trying to fix it. I think the advantage of having so many cars here and so many people here is that there is a ton of smart people working on fixing it. … Nothing goes perfectly and it’s a new design; we just have to get it worked out.”
For the drivers to continue getting used to the Next Gen car, they expect to continue testing sessions to work out any more small kinks the car may have. With the direction that the Cup Series schedule has taken over the past couple of years, the drivers feel that the car will suit those venues.NASCAR already has additional sessions on the books to continue making improvements with three more organizational tests already scheduled after the 2021 season concludes.