Editor’s note: Bozi Tatarevic is a professional racing mechanic and pit crew member. He will provide technical analysis for NASCAR.com throughout the 2022 season.
Saturday marked the debut of a new practice format as teams shifted to a longer, 35-minute practice session to allow more time to make adjustments, and it was definitely beneficial.
Teams were given the option to purchase an additional set of tires for a total of two sets for this practice session. Many took advantage of having an extra set to attempt various types of runs and adjustments and used the second set to attempt a qualifying simulation lap toward the end of the session.
While teams had an opportunity to make some longer runs, it’s probably wise to focus on short-run speed based on how much tougher these cars are to drive and how much fall-off this tire is showing. As we noted last week, the aerodynamic and suspension configuration of the Next Gen car makes it prone to lift-off oversteer, which makes these cars a handful to drive and can result in them snapping loose quickly once they reach that edge of the handling. So the optimal strategy play is to look at short-run speed because we’re likely to see breaks in the race from the occasional spin as drivers try to control these cars with worn tires.
Car control will continue to be a big theme and those that can find that cliff of where this shorter sidewall tire hits peak handling without going over the edge will continue to find success. Dirt-racing and sports-car racing experience are beneficial with the Next Gen car and that is exemplified by the front row, which is occupied by dirt aces Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson.
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The only car that did not get a chance to join that qualifying session was the No. 18 of Kyle Busch as it sustained damage after a spin in practice caused by a left-rear flat. It is unclear what caused the flat tire but the car spun as soon as that tire went down, and the car ended up spinning and hitting the wall with its left-rear corner. The resulting damage to components such as the underwing and rear chassis pieces necessitated going to a backup car, which the No. 18 crew will likely be working during all of their allotted time Saturday as that backup car was prepared more as a parts car than a backup car. The team will have to transfer a variety of components from one to the other.
All of these events are likely to combine for an action-packed race with Bell and Larson battling it out in the front and Kyle Busch trying to make it through the field with one of the fastest pit crews behind him.