NASCAR ‘done with development’ of Next Gen car a year from its debut

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NASCAR says that “we’re done with the development” of the Next Gen car about a year before the vehicle makes its debut.

Series officials discussed the Next Gen car, driver approval process, rule changes and more in a wide-ranging session with media members Monday.

Teams are expected to begin receiving their Next Gen cars in mid-June, said John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of innovation and racing development.

He said there are Goodyear tire tests scheduled at Richmond, Darlington, Texas and Bristol, with the Richmond test slated for March 16-17.

Probst also said manufacturers will have seven wheel force tests to gather data for teams this year. A test for all teams is expected shortly after the Oct. 10 race at the Charlotte Roval. Two other tests are scheduled after the season ends in early November.

“As far as us just running the car for the sake of gathering data, we’re done the with the development of the car at this point,” Probst said.

The Next Gen car has been tested nine times:

The car is scheduled for its first crash test in the second quarter of this year at the University of Nebraska’s facility, Probst said.

DRIVER APPROVAL

After questions about driver ability in the Cup Series last year, NASCAR addressed its driver approval process entering this season.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said the sanctioning body will act as needed.

“Over our history, we’ve always had those questions,” O’Donnell said. “I think if anything, we’re looking at the charter members as they exist. We’ve sent a note out to the teams reminding them of what we expect to be competing at the highest levels.

“If we want to market ourselves as the best drivers in the world, we need to ensure that the drivers who are out there and being approved consistently go out there and perform. If we feel like someone puts the sport at risk, we’re going to react and we have reacted.”

Said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition: “We do go though a pretty stringent process (in approving drivers). We’ll work up through tracks. If a guy is questionable at all, we’ll have him do a 1-mile (track) race or whatever and watch him. We’re not going to just approve anybody for superspeedways straight off the truck.

“I know there have been some questions. I’ve asked some questions internally about our process and should it be more stringent. It’s something that we look at and take very seriously. I think that you may see some new things coming before too long. Definitely not something that we take lightly.”

RULE CHANGES

One rule change this year will be how NASCAR interprets a crew member behind pit wall touching pit road.

Previously, if a crew member behind the wall reached out for a tire, lost their balance and touched pit road to keep from falling, NASCAR ruled that was a violation and penalized the team.

NASCAR adjusted the rule (with the change in bold) to state: “Crew member(s) purposely assisting (e.g. rolling tires, signboard) from the equipment side of pit road, either in the vehicle’s assigned pit box or in an adjacent pit box, may not substantially or purposely contact the pit road surface and may be counted towards the six crew member total.”

What does that mean?

“If a guy is reaching over the wall to grab a tire, slips and puts his hand down on pit road, that is no harm, no foul,” Miller said. “If the team dreams up a way to have the guy hanging over the wall and is out there doing something that we feel is unsafe or not in the spirit of competition, then we will call a penalty for that.”

NASCAR also will bring back the wheel well template to be used in inspection.

Said Cup Series Director Jay Fabian: “That is one of the areas of the race car that I felt like we needed to be a little bit more buttoned up on. Certainly introducing a few more analog tools to make sure that is the shape it’s supposed to be, that’s the target. Make sure everybody is the same and we have a good level playing field for all the competitors.”

COVID PROTOCOLS

NASCAR has reminded drivers about wearing masks at events and that they can be penalized for not doing so properly, said John Bobo, NASCAR vice president, racing operations.

“It has been addressed,” said Bobo, who oversees NASCAR’s coronavirus protocols. “We have talked to the drivers about ways they can earn penalties and teams. Not only do you need to wear a mask, you need to wear a good mask. You need to wear double the mask if you can, especially as the rate of transmission can increase with some of these variants. We’ve talked to them about the reality of Florida, as they come to Florida, and all the more reason to keep them safe. It is also their advantage to keep competing.”

On the issue of not testing competitors for COVID as part of the standard before arriving at a track, Bobo said:

“One of the things that makes us different than other sports is a lot of sports have the ability to create a bubble and keep people in isolation for a period of time, because the people on certain teams don’t change. The number of people that it takes to hold a NASCAR race are pretty fluid and change.

“One of the decisions we made early on was to treat the event as if there were COVID-positive people among us and act accordingly. That’s why we take masking and the protocols so seriously, and do everything we can to enforce that.

“We added rapid testing toward the end of last year and we use it quite a bit. We anticipate we’ll continue to use it aggressively as needed when situations arise, and we’re contract tracing or we’re dealing with known exposures and things like that.”