2021 Sept6 Next Gen Daytona Main Image
Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

Pack mentality: Eight teams ready to draft in Next Gen test this week at Daytona

A new phase in the testing of NASCAR’s Next Gen car is due up this week, with a prime audition for the vehicle’s debut in the 2022 Daytona 500.

Eight teams are scheduled to participate in a test for the NASCAR Cup Series’ new model Tuesday and Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway. The two-day session is the first for multiple Next Gen vehicles on a superspeedway and will help NASCAR officials and teams alike gather information about the car’s characteristics in a pack with the aerodynamic draft.

RELATED: Next Gen timeline | 2021 Cup Series schedule

“I think eight or nine cars will be going to Daytona and running together and establishing the aero package and the speeds that we’re looking for. So really, really looking forward to that,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, in an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Teams are taking delivery of parts and pieces and starting the Next Gen journey, getting those cars together and getting them ready for next year. So, really, really excited about that.”

Five former Daytona winners are among the group of test drivers scheduled to participate. Teams set to get on the track in the two-day session:

  • No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (driver Austin Dillon)
  • No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (Denny Hamlin)
  • No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford (Chris Buescher)
  • No. 22 Penske Racing Ford (Joey Logano)
  • No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (William Byron)
  • No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (Cole Custer)
  • No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (Ross Chastain)
  • No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.).

Aside from a two-car test last year at Charlotte Motor Speedway, single-car runs in Next Gen testing have been the norm — both for vehicle development and for tire testing. The Next Gen vehicle had previously tested at the 2.5-mile Daytona track, with Buescher piloting the well-used P3 prototype last December. That Daytona test helped officials establish a baseline single-car speed and the proper mix of aero drag and horsepower output on superspeedways, while also offering the opportunity to try different ride-height settings.

Teams and competition officials have multiple objectives for the Next Gen’s return to Daytona:

  • Allowing teams, officials and manufacturers to get a better feel for the model’s characteristics in the draft and around other cars.
  • Evaluating and setting a baseline power level and speed for the Next Gen car in a pack.
  • Helping Goodyear officials determine a suitable tire combination for next season’s events at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.
  • Giving teams a jump-start on at-track tuning and setup with the Next Gen car

The superspeedway package for the current “Gen-6” model has been an evolutionary process, with adjustments being made as recently as this season in the interest of safety at the sport’s fastest ovals. The focus has primarily centered on regulating the closing rates between cars, keeping the varying speeds between lead cars and advancing cars in check; and in preventing lift during crashes, keeping cars planted to the ground in spins. Those measures haven’t necessarily prevented the multi-car wrecks commonplace at Daytona and Talladega, where the cars frequently run in tight formations.

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Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

Logano previously tested the Next Gen car in just the model’s second test — at Phoenix Raceway in December 2019. His approach to this week’s test also has multiple goals as he reacquaints himself with the 2022 car, this time on a far different track than the 1-mile layout in Arizona.

“I think there’s a few things,” Logano said during last week’s NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Media Day. “One, you want to get the car driving good and capable of making moves and doing things. I think vision is one thing that you probably are gonna want to work on, with it being such a different car in a pack. Those type of things will be important.

“And then, you know, how these cars draft, what do they do. We just talked a minute ago about the rules package that we have now where we’re driving through each other. How do we get a package that is something that we can all race and be able to make moves and do things, but not something that we’re, you know as soon as we touch each other, we’re wrecking and we’re tearing up 30 cars or 20 cars every time. Somewhere in between, that’s kind of my goal as a driver to try to get to, so you got to work on your own car and then kind of at the same time you’re working for the sport as well to make sure that there’s something that is a good product for the race fans to watch.”

Byron was involved in the fourth test of the Next Gen car, and he was the first to wheel the P3 prototype during a March 2020 shakedown at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The 23-year-old driver, who won last year’s regular-season finale at Daytona, says this week’s test days won’t necessarily replicate the superspeedway feel of a full 40-car field, but should provide some clues for what to expect performance-wise.

“I think, for me, just try to establish a baseline for those guys, try to try to make it a smooth test, try to gather data, information,” Byron said during Playoffs Media Day. “I think the best thing I can do is just be a good test driver. That’s what I’ve learned over the years is sometimes when I show up to test, with as young as I am I just try to go fast, and that’s not really the goal of a test. The goal is to try to gather information and help those guys gather a variety of information, and also gather your info and ideas and approach to things.

“So, I mean Daytona’s gonna be different, we’re going to be doing single-car runs obviously where you’re just really learning about the car there, I’m not really learning anything. Then when we get in the pack, maybe I’ll learn some things but still a pretty long ways away from being around a bunch of cars out there, so that’s going to be different.”

Additional tire tests are scheduled to be held at Darlington Raceway and on the newly reconfigured and repaved surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway later in the year, with dates to be announced later. Organizational tests are set for the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 11-12), Charlotte’s oval layout (Nov. 17-18) and Phoenix Raceway (Dec. 7-8).