AVONDALE, Ariz. — NASCAR’s 2022 Next Gen testing schedule started and ended at the same destinations the official season will begin and conclude — Daytona International Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.
There was a two-day organizational test Jan. 11-12 at Daytona and then another this week at Phoenix. Wednesday’s eight-hour session marked Day 2 and therefore the last preseason opportunity for teams to turn laps on track. They’ll next unload with a checkered flag on the line.
“I think that, from my gray hair, we’ve all done this long enough to know that this is testing,” John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of racing innovation, said. “We’ve done it throughout our history. And from what we’ve seen right now, we feel like we’re in a really good spot. But until we throw the green flag and guys go out there to race, with some anger and really start bumping and banging … right now, we’re really happy. We’re also prepared to monitor how the season starts and we’ll be prepared to make adjustments if we need to. But right now, all indications are pretty good.
“Experience tells us not to get too happy, so we’ll just be cautiously optimistic, how about that?”
Up first is the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum (Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. ET on FOX), a star-studded exhibition event held in Los Angeles for the first time. The regular season begins with the Daytona 500 (Feb. 20 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX), where the new 510-horsepower engine and 7-inch spoiler will be used. That rules configuration was confirmed at the Daytona test and will be used there, Talladega Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.
All other tracks, including Phoenix, will feature a base 670 target horsepower and 4-inch rear spoiler. That, too, was determined before this week’s test.
“Just kind of doing one last sanity check,” Probst said. “We felt like, coming here with the short-track package, we would be in a pretty good spot. Confirmed and check on that, yes, we are. If you look at the lap times, there’s pretty good parity out there right now, a lot of times similar to what we raced here.”
Defending series champ Kyle Larson from Hendrick Motorsports (27.329 seconds, 131.728 mph) clocked the fast lap Tuesday, while Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney (27.292 seconds, 131.907 mph) topped Wednesday’s boards.
Phoenix’s shakedown was more so for teams than NASCAR. The sanctioning body monitored tire wear and debated inspection processes, but otherwise, its personnel simply shadowed the garage unless an issue arose.
Feedback from drivers varied from stall to stall.
“We may have some general ideas, but there’s nothing concrete yet until we go out there and race,” Team Penske wheelman Joey Logano said. “So, when you say comfortable, I’m far from comfortable. There’s nothing I really know for certain is coming my way.”
A very different vibe from Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez.
“I don’t have, honestly, one thing that bothers me about the car,” he said. “That’s my honest opinion, so I’m happy. I’m happy for the change. I’m happy for where the sport is heading. And I can’t wait to get started.”
There are others who have adopted more of a laissez-faire attitude, too.
“Once you get the first five races, you kind of have a good dialogue and a good direction of where your team is, so just grind through it,” 23XI Racing pilot Bubba Wallace said. “This car is so tricky, and it’s a lot to take in. Every lap on track, I kept getting more and more comfortable. It’s just a matter of time before it all clicks.”
And it could very well all click — at different times, for different teams.
“I’m anxious to go through that learning process and kind of see who guesses right first, and hopefully it’s us,” Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott said. “Then, whether it is or isn’t, you definitely want to make sure you’re on the upswing at the right time, like always, and I think that swing is going to be a pretty big one this year.”
That was — still is — the whole point.
NASCAR introduced the idea of Next Gen in 2019. The actual product will competitively debut here in 2022.
“I feel like we’re a sports team,” Probst said. “We’ve been practicing for three years, and now it’s time to put the uniforms on and get out under the lights and see what we’ve got.”