Drivers make strides with two-day Next Gen test: ‘On edge, which is a good thing’

Reddick Next Gen
Chase Wilhelm
NASCAR Digital Media

CONCORD, N.C. — After nearly 16 hours of Next Gen testing on Wednesday and Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR Cup Series drivers and teams have a clearer understanding of the product they’ll be putting on track in 2022.

Twenty-two drivers took to the 1.5-mile track, punctuated by three pack runs on Friday. The morning session saw a six-inch offset spoiler, while a pair of afternoon mock races focused on a six-inch centered spoiler and four-inch centered spoiler. The 670-horsepower option was used throughout the day. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, indicated that will be the likely move for the power units next year, but finalization of the 2022 rules package is still ongoing.

RELATED: NASCAR, teams focusing on 670-horsepower target

William Byron and Tyler Reddick had incidents in Friday’s morning portion of the session but were able to avoid any significant damage, while Corey LaJoie looped the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet around at the end of the second pack run coming out of Turn 4. Reddick also scraped the wall in the second pack run as he tried to find just how far the new car can be pushed.

“The cars are on edge, which is a good thing,” Reddick said on Friday. “There’s more mechanical grip in the car, less aerodynamic grip so, you know, you gotta keep it straight and you gotta keep the tires happy. You can’t get completely sideways or as sideways as we used to in years past with the other cars because the side force just doesn’t hold (the cars) down to the track.”

Ty Dillon, driving the No. 42 for newly formed Petty GMS Racing, feels the edge is a lot sharper because drivers are still trying to figure out how hard they are able to push their machines, but overall, the car is less forgiving of drivers’ mistakes.

“Your margin of error is a lot smaller,” Dillon said. “I know every lap I’ve ran I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable and I was able to drive it a little bit harder and that edge is getting a little softer for me. What makes Tyler (Reddick) so good is that he lives on that edge, the fine line of hitting the wall or spinning out but he’s super fast.”

Despite a spin in Turns 3 and 4 that left slight rear damage, Byron finished first in the second and third sessions Friday afternoon and second in the first pack run. While Byron and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team have put emphasis on finding a balance with the car that makes him comfortable, he noted it was a confidence boost to be out front.

RELATED: Scenes from Next Gen testing at Charlotte

“I would rather be there than being the guy that says we’re going to be fine when the season starts and all that,” Byron said. “It’s nice, but so much is going to change. I just try to stay just as open-minded as a driver as I can because I’ve learned. I’ve been in this deal for four years now and things change so fast. It really is just about me staying open-minded, trying be as objective as I can be with my team. I think it’s gonna change a lot but it’s nice for us to show some speed.”

While Byron believes the Next Gen car will evolve even more before hitting the track for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, his read on the 670-horsepower engine and aerodynamic packages being considered is that they’ve put the tools back into the drivers’ hands.

“I think it’s fun,” Byron said. “It’s definitely fun for the drivers. A lot more going on, you’re sweating a little bit more or at least I was working harder. You’ve got more brake usage, more throttle usage, more of a difference I feel like I’m making.”

Daniel Suarez, preparing for his second season with Trackhouse Racing as the team moves to a two-car operation with Ross Chastain, said he enjoyed experimenting with different packages on the race track. Suarez did agree with others regarding the finer line that drivers will have to toe in order to keep all four wheels pointed in the right direction.

“The car has more downforce but has no side force at all, which the side force is what all drivers were extremely used to,” Suarez said. “We have that feeling that the rear is right there and you can race sideways and it can be OK. But this, we don’t have as much of a warning. You have a little bit and you step out a little bit more and you spin out or wreck. The warning is way different.”

“But, listen, I’m excited for the challenge,” Suarez added. “I’m very, very excited with this new car and I think everyone is enjoying the journey. I think we’re going to end up with a very, very good product. We just have to continue to work together to get there.”