CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR held the first portion of its two-day Next Gen organizational test Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
There were 18 Cup Series organizations on site with 30 drivers. One- and two-car teams were allowed to field one entry, while three- and four-car teams were limited to two. That did require some drivers to take turns behind the wheel.
For example: Trackhouse Racing is a two-car team, so Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain split time in the No. 1 Chevrolet. Stewart-Haas Racing is a four-car team, so Kevin Harvick and Chase Briscoe shared the No. 4 Ford, while Aric Almirola and Cole Custer took turns in the No. 10.
“You saw a lot of the smaller teams actually up the leaderboard a good bit there,” said John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation. “I know not everybody’s coming here to put a lap time up. But you see the teams from front to back are a lot more prepared and they’re on the track right away. So, I feel like they’re learning very quickly and their level of preparation has gone way up, especially now that we’re done racing. They’re completely focused on the car at this point.
“The competition from front to back should be continuing to get better and better.”
The test session lasted from 9 a.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET with a one-hour break. Thursday will be a bit shorter, going from 8 a.m. ET to 5 p.m. ET. It will also stream live on NASCAR.com’s YouTube starting at 9 a.m. ET.
This two-day test marks the 16th overall since its first on Oct. 8-9, 2019 — production was delayed a season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the second organizational test; the first was earlier this year on Oct. 11-12 on Charlotte’s 2.32-mile road course rather than the 1.5-mile oval.
“I feel like there’s been good, steady progress with some of the gremlins in the steering, some of the gremlins in the transaxle and then just standard suspension settings,” said Kurt Busch, who has driven the Next Gen car before, but Wednesday marked his first on-track time with 23XI Racing. “Those are all getting a bit more scienced out. It was like we were on the moon before and now we’ve landed on planet Earth. And now it’s up to each team to individually tailor the cars to make themselves better.
“Then we have to see how the cars will do in traffic still, I still think that’s going to be an interesting game.”
There was no pack racing Wednesday, though the idea was tossed around for Thursday. The last hour of Thursday will be dedicated to pit practice, a Next Gen first. NASCAR will also make a spoiler change for Thursday’s stretch, cutting the spoiler from eight to seven inches; that is expected to add 30 horsepower and increase the speed of the cars.
The Next Gen cars will make their competitive debut Feb. 6 in the 2022 Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“This entire car from top to bottom — for everybody that’s working on it, for all the drivers, for everybody that’s building the parts and pieces — it’s a new challenge,” Alex Bowman said. “There are so many things on it different than what we had. It’s very challenging.
“The old car was really fun because how aggressively hard you could drive it. This car, you can’t drive it as hard I don’t feel like, or at least I’m not comfortable with it yet. But learning where those limits are — how hard you can or can’t drive it — is going to be a challenge. I’m enjoying trying to figure it out.”