Forza’s NASCAR World Tour Expansion: The chance to answer your favorite ‘what if?’

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Dan Greenawalt had an itch he needed to scratch.

Despite having never attended a NASCAR race in his life, the Creative Director of Turn 10 Studios wanted to drive a NASCAR stock car around Watkins Glen International.

“It’s one of the NASCAR races I love watching because you mix it up so much,” Greenawalt told NBC Sports in a phone interview. “It’s just fun, it’s a great track. It’s got so much heritage, it’s one of those tracks that I love to drive classic cars on, in general. It flows really well, it’s got the heritage, it’s got a lot of different type of surfaces on it and really interesting camber from one corner to the next.”

Greenawalt doesn’t know WGI from first-hand experience. He’s describing it based on his experience from driving on the road course while developing NASCAR World Tour, the latest expansion pack for Forza Motorsports 6, which is available today on the XBox One.

“I feel like any car I jump into, the physics of the game really speak to me, because I know the track well and the track is an incredible trial,” Greenawalt said.

Greenawalt is one of the minds behind Microsoft’s Forza Motorsports 6 video game, the latest entry in the series that began in 2005 on XBox. While the above scene at WGI seems like one you could experience in any of the NASCAR simulator games that has been released over the last two decades, it’s just the surface of the many “What If?” itches one can scratch.

The expansion, which features 10 hours of additional content to the original, adds 24 Sprint Cup cars among 16 drivers and Homestead-Miami Speedway to the already existing NASCAR-sanctioned tracks on the game. The 24 cars represent Joe Gibbs Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, and Team Penske.

With those 24 cars you could run at Watkins Glen. But you could also do it in the rain, something that’s never been done in real life in the series.

Have you ever wondered how a stock car would handle “The Corkscrew” at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca? Of course you have.

Does the thought of a stock car navigating the street course of the Grand Prix of Long Beach keep you up at night? Do your eyes glaze over when you think about Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Kevin Harvick jockeying for position at the Silverstone Circuit in the United Kingdom against V8 Supercars or an IndyCar?

Forza Motorsports 6 gives you that possibility now.

“I was racing in the rain on Silverstone and it’s such a fish out of water (experience) in a sense, but as a driver you feel like you’re incredibly challenged to take these cars, they’re so powerful, they’re so raw,” Greenawalt said. “Silverstone has such tradition with proper racing etiquette and you think of a lot of the open-wheel stuff with F1 and to go in there … and really mixing it up in the rain, when I first did that it was with a whole field of NASCAR (cars) and it just felt like a muddy, ballroom brawl.”

That brawl and your other NASCAR-related fantasies are made possible only through the cooperation of NASCAR itself its licensing division, where Blake Davidson works as a vice president.

Davidson has been with NASCAR for going on 21 years and has been working on licensed games since “NASCAR Racing” in 1994, a PC game produced by Papyrus.

“One of the challenges that we’ve always had is that it’s really difficult to experience NASCAR yourself,” Davidson told NBC Sports in phone interview. “It’s not like stick-and-ball sports where you can go out and play those sports. It’s completely different.

“Outside of a driving school, it’s the best way we can allow fans to race and experience the sport.”

The sport has to be turned into a video game someway. Greenawalt breaks it down into three components – Physics, graphics and audio.

Audio – “We tend to use Dynos, which means we put the cars on a rolling road or a dynamometer (a device for measuring force, torque, or power). We put different microphones all around the car – the intake, the exhaust, near the engine. We try to isolate the sounds so we can remix them in real-time and on the fly while the cars are driving.”

Graphics – “We’ve used a lot of different techniques. With an older car, we might laser scan it. But with a NASCAR in particular, we get CAD data, so it’s polygonal design data that’s given to us. From that data, we’re able to then photograph the cars, videotape the cars, manipulate that date to get a very accurate representation … we have to go on-site, put our hands on the car to make the CAD data really come to life in our engine.”

Says Davidson, “Microsoft and their designers, they want to be authentic in everything that they’re doing. Sometimes that makes the teams a little bit nervous. They love to take pictures of everything and scan the cars and have everything captured perfectly in the game and they get pretty darn close, but there are certainly things teams are sensitive about.”

Physics – “We’ve got thousands of data points, for every single car. We recreate them in real-time. So we measure things like the weight of the driveline, inertia. Different components like the flywheel, the engine. The unsprung mass of the suspension architecture, the brakes the wheels and tires. We measure all those components and put them into the game. What’s really unique about NASCAR in particular was the aerodynamics. We had a separate team go and start really looking into how aerodynamics is done at that level. Those cars, they’re not symmetrical, so one side is different from the other on an oval setup. That’s very atypical of the cars in our game.”

When all of that comes together, after a few years of work, you can scratch your own NASCAR itch.

Matt DiBenedetto wins NASCAR Truck race at Talladega

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevy Silverado 250
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
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Matt DiBenedetto won Saturday’s 250-mile NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on a day pockmarked by numerous accidents, including a major one at the finish.

As the field swept to the finish line in overtime, a multi-car crash developed as Corey Heim lost control of his truck in the trioval. Several trucks crashed approaching the finish as the caution flag flew.

NASCAR officials studied video of the final lap to determine that DiBenedetto was in front when the caution lights were turned on, although Bret Holmes appeared to beat him to the finish line by inches. When caution lights appear, the field is frozen at that point, so any position changes after the caution are irrelevant.

MORE: Talladega Truck results

MORE: Talladega Truck driver points

The last lap was the only one led by DiBenedetto, who has been racing in NASCAR national series since 2009 but scored his first win.

Following DiBenedetto, a non-playoff driver, at the finish were Ben Rhodes, Holmes, Ryan Preece and Christian Eckes.

With one race remaining in the Round of 8, Ty Majeski has locked in a spot in the final four at Phoenix. Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Rhodes are above the cutline. Below the line are Stewart Friesen, Eckes, John Hunter Nemechek and Grant Enfinger.

MORE: Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs leadership changes

A string of accidents left only two playoff drivers — Eckes and Rhodes — in the top 10 with 10 laps remaining.

Carson Hocevar dropped out of the lead group with five laps to go when he lost a tire, prompting a caution flag and pushing the race into overtime.

The race was marred by a fiery crash in the early going as Jordan Anderson‘s truck exploded in flames while running in the top five in a tight draft.

Anderson steered the truck to the inside as flames fired up on both sides of the vehicle. The truck crashed into the inside wall even as Anderson climbed from the driver-side window. He was transported to an area hospital.

On Lap 35, Lawless Alan hit the wall hard after his right front tire blew. He was evaluated and released from the infield medical center.

Another dangerous situation developed on Lap 63 as numerous trucks pitted at the same time under green. As Hailie Deegan attempted to stop in her pit, one of the crew members lost control of a tire, and it rolled into traffic and onto the grass area separating pit road from the track. A Deegan crew member chased down the tire in the grass and later was ejected from the track by NASCAR officials for a safety violation.

On Lap 79, Enfinger’s truck blew a tire and slammed the wall, starting a crash that collected Tanner Gray, Johnny Sauter and Austin Wayne Self.

Stage 1 winner: John Hunter Nemechek

Stage 2 winner: Chandler Smith

Who had a good race: Matt DiBenedetto had been waiting a very long time for this winning moment. … Alabama driver Bret Holmes almost won in front of the home crowd. He finished third.

Who had a bad race: Jordan Anderson had one of the most frightening crashes of the season, bailing out of his flaming truck after it caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. … Playoff drivers John Hunter Nemechek (finished 24th) and Grant Enfinger (29th) had rough outings.

Next: The Truck Series is off for three weeks before racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 22. The series’ final race is scheduled Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

Denny Hamlin calls out NASCAR leadership for Next Gen concerns

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin cites “bad leadership” from NASCAR for creating a car that he says needs to be redesigned after two drivers have suffered concussion-like symptoms in crashes this year.

Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have been most outspoken about the safety of the car this year. Chase Elliott spoke up Saturday about how “disappointed” he is “that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in.” 

Hamlin said other drivers must join them in being heard.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR had not offered a response to Hamlin’s comments as of Saturday afternoon.

Driver frustrations with the Next Gen car continue to grow, as Alex Bowman became the second driver to be forced to miss at least a race for concussion-like symptoms. 

Bowman crashed last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and experienced headaches and other symptoms of a concussion earlier this week, according to Hendrick Motorsports President Jeff Andrews. 

Bowman went to a doctor on Thursday and the team announced that day Bowman would not race Sunday. No timetable for his return has been announced. Noah Gragson will drive Bowman’s car Sunday.

Kurt Busch, who drives for Hamlin’s 23XI Racing, continues to be out because of a head injury he suffered after he crashed July 23 at Pocono Raceway. Busch said this week that he is “hopeful” of racing this season.

Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticisms Saturday about the car and series officials for an issue he said drivers brought up more than a year ago.

Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said: “Bad leadership.”

Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on the rear clip and rear bumper of the car. That’s an improvement that could be made to the car for next season. A complaint about the car is how stiff the rear is and how rear-end impacts have felt more violent to drivers this season. The crash test is the first since a full car crash test last December. 

For Hamlin, the rear is only a start to what needs to be done to the car.

“The car needs to be redesigned,” Hamlin said. “It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned.

“It needs to be redesigned everywhere. Front, middle, rear, competition, the whole thing needs to be redesigned. We’ve got a tough Martinsville race coming up. It’s going to be tough. This thing is just going to get exposed about how bad it races. That’s just a part of it. Competition and safety, we’d like to have it all better, but certainly we just took a step back in safety and competition this year.”

Hamlin also knows it’s too late for a redesign for next year.

“If I were to run this and say, ‘All right, we’re going to have a new car,’ we’d already be done with testing right now for next year’s car,” Hamlin said. “We haven’t even begun. We’re just way too behind. This whole sport is behind.”

But Hamlin said it was “feasible” for NASCAR to do a redesign of the car.

“It’s just (that) NASCAR has to concede that they’re not capable and let the teams do it,” he said.

That’s not likely. NASCAR has a contract with the suppliers of each part and those deals, while they can be broken under certain circumstances, are multi-year deals. 

Hamlin said drivers brought up concerns about the car last year. There had been concerns about the car and how hard the impact felt after William Byron’s crash in testing at Auto Club Speedway in March 2020.

“We actually, as the drivers, didn’t do that docu-series last year because we didn’t feel comfortable with this Next Gen car and the lack of the safety testing that had been done before they started announcing that they were going to run it,” Hamlin said. “We threw up red flags over a year ago and they just didn’t respond. They just kept pushing this car has got to be on the track at all cost. At all cost.”

In an interview last month, John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of Racing Innovation, told NBC Sports that he feels one misunderstanding with the car is the collaboration between NASCAR, teams and manufacturers.

“I think that sometimes when you read the driver quotes and the team feedback, crew chiefs are posting things on Twitter, it creates the sense of NASCAR vs. them vs. the world,” Probst said. 

“Really, it isn’t like that. I wish people could see how well we actually do work with the engineers on these teams, sorting through the problems.

“I feel like we work hand-in-hand with them, but a lot of times when it gets to the public eye, for whatever reason, or if it’s in the heat of the moment, it comes across as though ‘NASCAR is making us do this,’ or ‘This is the dumbest thing ever,’ but I think, in reality, that is so far from the truth.”

Jordan Anderson in fiery crash in Talladega Truck race

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NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson was airlifted to an area hospital after being involved in a fiery crash during Saturday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Anderson’s car caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. Flames burst from three areas around the truck as Anderson tried to slow the vehicle and move onto the track apron. The truck hit the inside wall. Anderson climbed from the vehicle in a cloud of smoke as it came to a stop.

Anderson, 31 and a resident of Forest Acres, S.C., was transported to the infield medical center before being airlifted. NASCAR confirmed Anderson’s trip to the hospital.

Fox Sports reported that a team member said Anderson had burns.

Anderson is a part-time driver in the Truck Series. He has a top finish of 14th this season.

Starting lineup for Talladega Cup race: Christopher Bell wins pole

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Six playoff drivers will start in the top 10 for Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Christopher Bell won the pole for the race Saturday with a speed of 180.591 miles per hour. He was followed by Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe.

MORE: Talladega Cup starting lineup

MORE: Talladega Cup qualifying results

Playoff drivers starting in the top 10 are Bell, Larson, Hamlin, Briscoe, Ross Chastain (sixth) and William Byron (ninth).

Noah Gragson, who qualified seventh, is replacing Alex Bowman, who is sitting out the race with concussion-like symptoms.

Ryan Blaney, starting 19th, is the lowest playoff driver on the starting grid.