Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. on how Next Gen car performed at their Charlotte Roval test

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NASCAR’s continuing education with the Next Gen car was back in session Monday with two apt pupils (and former Cup Series champions) behind the wheel for a test on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Kurt Busch drove a car prepared by Richard Childress Racing/NASCAR with an ECR Chevrolet engine and said driving the new model was “like the first day of school.

“There’s so much to look at and digest and feel,” Busch said during a late afternoon break from the opener of a two-day session. “It’s been an impressive pickup of speed vs. the traditional car. That says Next Gen all over it when you’re going faster, turning better, accelerating harder and braking faster, because faster is better.”

Martin Truex Jr., who was in a Ford-powered car built and prepared by the Action Express team from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, was in a race car with independent rear suspension for the first time. While it mostly drove similarly to his No. 19 Toyota, Truex said the “souped-up model of a Cup car” that “definitely was a huge learning curve with bigger brakes and wheels and a sequential gear-shifter replacing the traditional H pattern).

“There are so many differences about the way these cars are built from our style of racing or racing stock cars in general,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. “It’s going to be a huge learning curve for everyone, but when the car is balanced well, it feels really, really similar to what we have now. That’s a good thing. This is a slow road course. To see how it feels on the fast oval Wednesday will be a real eye-opener.”

According to auto racing journalist and sports car mechanic Bozi Tatarevic, the Next Gen cars were lapping Monday in the 84-second range, which is comparable to race pace from the Oct. 11 race (and a few seconds off the top practice and qualifying speeds with more downforce in the 2019 race) on the 17-turn, 2.32-mile course road course.

Busch said the cars were running somewhere between the 550 and 750 horsepower configurations used in Cup.

Busch and Truex will test on the track’s 1.5-mile oval Wednesday and run side by side to get a feel for how they handle in traffic.

Here’s a rundown of what they learned about the new car, which will make its Cup debut with the 2022 season:

Tires: With larger 18-inch wheels and single lug nuts, the tires already are visually different. But Truex said the larger contact patch and stiffer suspension also are helping keep tire temperatures much lower, which should allow for tires with better wear.

The single lug-nut wheels were used in the Next Gen test Monday (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

“I’m able to feel we can make the tires softer already,” he said. “With the same car weight and more tire surface area, you can go softer on the compound. That’ll help out, especially on the ovals.

“What we all like about ovals is degradation and falloff. The newer paved tracks have been a challenge because the tires overheat so bad. Typically, the tires have to be so hard for a big track like this, the infield is like ice. Today, the infield is feeling better with more grip. It’s made this track more fun to drive and slip and slide the car more.”

Gearing: The sequential shifter was described by Truex as “a lot easier, more efficient and effective. You lift off the throttle less to shift, and we have more gears and more options. If you get bogged down going through the infield,  you can jump down a gear and grab the throttle. It’s really good for road course. It’s like a real car with paddle shifters, you barely have to blip the throttle to pull the thing in gear. It’s neat.”

Busch compared it with a motorcycle gear shift and said many drivers were familiar with the adjustment from racing Legends cars.

Suspension: Busch said drivers will have to learn how to help the team tune a car with larger brakes and a raft of new independent rear suspension lingo that no longer will include track bar and wedge. But the fresh vernacular related is worth the tradeoff.

“It accelerates quicker, stops quicker, turns quicker,” Busch said. “It’s more nimble. All the lap time is gained in the infield with the independent rear suspension and the ability to shift quicker. The car is more effective and sensitive to changes and feel. You feel everything more vividly.”

Next Gen test Charlotte
Martin Truex Jr. climbs into the NASCAR Next Gen car during the test on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Steering: Busch and Truex said they didn’t notice the complaints the steering was “soft and twitchy” during previous tests.

“I feel pretty confident with it,” Truex said, though he noted that sometimes the steering “locks up, and car bottoms out on the oval. Hopefully we can figure that out.”

Busch said they would use Wednesday to firm up the steering, which was “on the aggressive side for feel. I like its movement. On the oval sections, it’s on edge. We need to perfect that, and that’ll be the Wednesday focus. It’s a bunch of cool stuff to learn.”

Noise: Because the new car uses a “split” exhaust, both drivers said the engine sounds “throatier” with an “old-school” design. “It’s cool and badass when you’re driving it,” Truex said. Busch said it’s like “an old school Trans Am thundering power and feel.”

Next Gen test Charlotte
The Next Gen car was estimated to be turning laps in the 84-second bracket Monday (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

This week’s test is the sixth with the Next Gen car, which most recently had been on track Aug. 24-25 at Dover International Speedway with Cole Custer.

Previous sessions:

Oct. 8-9, 2019 at Richmond with Austin Dillon

Dec. 9-10, 2019 at Phoenix with Joey Logano

Jan. 15-16, 2020 at Miami with Erik Jones

March 2-3, 2020 at Auto Club Speedway with William Byron

Rodney Childers fined $100,000, suspended for four races

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NASCAR has suspended Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, for four races and fined him $100,000 for what the sanctioning body called modification of a part supplied by a vendor.

Harvick, who is out of the Cup Series playoffs, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team were docked 100 points.

Harvick’s car and that of Martin Truex Jr. were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. after last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no penalties assessed to the Truex team.

Harvick has been particularly critical of the Next Gen car in recent months, once referring to the “crappy-ass parts” provided by suppliers.

Harvick’s car erupted in flames during the Southern 500 Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway. After he climbed from the smoking car, Harvick blamed the fire on “just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.

“The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash.

“What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

Unless the team appeals, Childers would miss races at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville and would return for the season finale at Phoenix.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that officials have not targeted Harvick. “I would say that’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney or anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvick tweeted, “Seems strange…” A Childers tweet called the penalty “Shocker…..”.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday it has suspended Young’s Motorsports crew chief Andrew Abbott indefinitely for a behavioral violation during pre-race inspection. He must undergo anger-management training to be reinstated. The team races in the Camping World Truck Series.

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Roval

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The lineup for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 8 will be decided in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Entering the race, the final event in the Round of 12, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the cutline. Bowman will miss the race — and thus the cutoff — as he continues to battle concussion-like symptoms. Noah Gragson is scheduled to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet Sunday.

Cindric is tied with Chase Briscoe for the eighth playoff spot, but Briscoe would claim it on the tiebreaker. Byron is 11 points back, and Bell is 33. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty to Byron that dropped him below the cutline. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Thursday.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Any playoff driver who wins Sunday’s race and isn’t already qualified — Chase Elliott qualified for the Round of 8 by winning last week at Talladega Superspeedway — automatically advances to the Round of 8.

Drivers to watch Sunday at the Roval (2 p.m., ET, NBC), the final road-course race of the season:

FRONTRUNNERS

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st
  • Last three races: Won at Talladega, 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2019 and 2020

Elliott is the clear favorite to win a second championship. He won Sunday at Talladega to advance to the Round of 8 and can relax Sunday at Charlotte having punched his ticket. Relaxing isn’t likely, however, as Elliott will be among the favorites to win.

Ryan Blaney

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Last three races: 2nd at Talladega, 4th at Texas, 30th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2018.

Blaney continues along a path that could result in him winning the Cup championship without winning a race. He came within an eyelash of winning Sunday at Talladega but fell victim to Chase Elliott’s last-lap charge. He should be a threat Sunday at the Roval, where he has four straight top 10s.

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 18th at Talladega, 9th at Texas, 5th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2021

Larson’s last win — and his last top-four finish — came at Watkins Glen seven races ago. He is 18 points over the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Austin Cindric

  • Points position: 9th
  • Last three races: 9th at Talladega, 15th at Texas, 20th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Sunday will mark his first Cup race. Has three top threes in four Xfinity starts.

Cindric hasn’t won since the season-opening Daytona 500 and is one of five drivers still in the playoffs who own only one victory this year. His ninth-place run at Talladega ended a streak of four straight finishes of 12th or worse.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 7th
  • Last three races: 8th at Talladega, 12th at Texas, 19th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Best finish in four starts is 13th

Suarez is 12 points above the cutline entering Sunday’s race. He has never led a lap at the Roval and has never finished in the top 10.

Chase Briscoe

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 10th at Talladega, 5th at Texas, 14th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Finished 22nd last year in his only Cup start

Briscoe is teetering on top of the cutline in search of a spot in the Round of 8. He hasn’t won since the fourth race of the year at Phoenix and had a poor performance at the Roval last year.

 

 

AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)