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Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

New Next Gen car debuts in Auto Club test, ’99 percent’ complete

The Next Gen car for NASCAR Cup Series racing in 2021 makes its fourth on-track test Monday and Tuesday at Auto Club Speedway. For this particular prototype, it’s a maiden voyage for a model that’s nearly 100 percent complete.

William Byron is set to drive the new model in the two-day test in Fontana, California. The new car has been referred to internally as “P3” — the third prototype in the accelerated development process of the new-generation racer. The first car was used as a wind-tunnel model, and the second was used in the previous three on-track tests.

“When it came time to build our P3 prototype, we tried to take into account all of the things that we wanted to do with respect to the final car that we’re going to race next year as much as we could into this plan,” said John Probst, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development. “We feel like this car is probably 99 percent what we’re going to compete with next year, and then some of the vendors that we’ve selected have been able to make parts available that will be identical to what we’re racing next year.

“So it’s a mix of things that make it easier to work on, which is probably one of the biggest criticisms of the first car is that it was difficult to work on, so we implemented a bunch of changes from a mechanic’s standpoint to make it easier.”

NASCAR officials have not released a full list of vendor partners and parts suppliers for the 2021 car. German wheel manufacturer BBS has been announced as the vendor for the Next Gen car’s 18-inch wheels, which will go to a single center-locking lug next season.

RELATED: Single-lug design coming in 2021

Probst said that Richard Childress Racing, which also produced the previous Next Gen test mule, built the P3 car for this week’s test. RCR officials have worked with drivers and crew from other teams and manufacturers at previous test sessions, gathering data and feedback as part of the collaborative development of the 2021 model.

“From the first car they built for us and the testing they’ve done for us, they’ve done a very good job,” Probst said of RCR. “The other race teams that have been at the tests have worked very well with them, so our goal in keeping them was just that we’re on a very tight timeline and they were in the best spot to deliver something good quickly.”

At 2 miles in length, Auto Club is the largest track yet to host the proposed 2021 model. Previous tests were held at Richmond Raceway (.75 miles), Phoenix Raceway (1 mile) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (1.5 miles). Probst said that competition officials have installed new underbody components for this week’s test as the teams continue to develop the car’s aerodynamic characteristics.

Three more Next Gen tests are scheduled in the next two months: March 16-17 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, April 6-7 at Bristol Motor Speedway and May 4-5 at Dover International Speedway — all scheduled the day after NASCAR Cup Series races. A June 2-3 test is set for Charlotte Motor Speedway, two days after the Cup Series competes at Kansas Speedway.

With two track-ready test cars built, the next step in testing would be a multicar session to see how vehicles perform together, either in an aerodynamic draft or side by side.

“That is on our radar. I think pending how this test goes with the P3 prototype Monday and Tuesday, if that all goes well, we could see it as soon as Atlanta although that’s not our primary goal at the moment,” Probst said, “but certainly by the time we get out to Bristol, Dover and certainly by the Charlotte test.”