For projects that either originate or roll through the garage doors at the NASCAR Research & Development Center, safety remains an essential priority in every phase of development. The case of the Next Gen car, built from the ground up for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series, is no different.
From more durable composite bodies, to better bumpers front and rear, to new devices designed to reduce rollover crashes at superspeedways, the Next Gen car will carry new safety features into next season, building on the advances developed in its predecessors but also introducing new safeguards intended to protect drivers in the event of a wreck.
Prominent among those new safety measures is the addition of energy-absorbing foam bumpers designed to dissipate front and rear impacts. Bald Spot Sports, an Indianapolis-based manufacturer of performance-enhancing foam products, provides the components, which are also used as a brace for the vehicle’s doors.
“A lot of the design in the vehicle from a first-order perspective, a lot of the targets were set by our safety group and we’ve gone through probably hundreds of iterations of chassis structure and front and rear bumper structures to get to the final solution,” said John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation. “I think that when you look at, for the first time in our sport, and this is not uncommon in production cars where they actually have crash structures built into the car, we do have those built into this race car.
“Today, when we say we’ve got a front and rear bumper, it’s not a front/rear bumper in a sense that it had a whole lot of safety thought put into it. It’s basically there to hold the front/rear bumper, so this for the first time will be a proper crash structure with energy-absorbing foam on the outer skin of the actual crash structure itself. It just takes some of the energy out of the car and absorbs it into the foam.”
The issue of superspeedway safety flared last month after Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford became airborne during a multicar crash at Talladega Superspeedway. The Next Gen car has several components designed to decrease lift in the event of a high-speed backward slide, but the newest is a flap located at the diffuser under the rear bumper.
Roof-mounted air flaps that deploy during a spin carry over from the current car, but the Next Gen model includes a cable that connects the roof flap to the new diffuser flap, allowing them to deploy in tandem. The flap design is among the nine patents that competition officials obtained in development of the Next Gen car.
“I think that any time in our sport that we have a vehicle leave the ground, we take it very seriously,” Probst says. “We employ all methods of technology and testing that we can to mitigate that. The diffuser flap is an example of such an effort on our part. We’ve had it in the wind tunnel, I think on four different occasions. … The whole concept is, if a car gets to the point that the roof flaps would be deployed that this diffuser flap as well would be deployed with the roof flaps. When we do get a car around backward, it’s just to deploy all measures to keep the vehicles on the ground by all means necessary that we can engineer.”
Some of the safety systems have already been appraised in real-world situations, both occurring with the P3 prototype that has been in heavy testing rotation for more than a year. William Byron crashed during a March 2020 season at Auto Club Speedway, and more recently Tyler Reddick looped the tester vehicle at Darlington Raceway on April 7, making slight right-side contact on his final run of the day.
Neither driver was hurt. In Reddick’s case, after a quick change of tires, he was able to drive the car back to the garage with little issue.
“That was a love tap, by most measures of what you can do to a car at Darlington,” Probst said. “I don’t know that we learned a whole lot there, honestly, other than that the car can take a little bit of a hit and keep going.”