Discussions have taken place on if Cup teams should be allowed to run the current car at next year’s dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway instead of the Next Gen car, according to Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks.
Those are just part of ways the sport is looking at how to make next year’s dirt race better after series officials made format changes before and during Monday’s race.
The Next Gen car is scheduled to debut next season. It is intended to replace the current inventory of cars for Cup teams, but the Bristol dirt race could be an exception.
“I know that that discussion has already started to take place among ownership in the sport right now, probably even before the race that question was raised,” Marks said Tuesday of what type of car teams would race on the Bristol dirt track next year. “This new car is a very sophisticated piece of equipment, and this race track is very hard on these cars. We were welding between practice and the race because of how rough this track was on our cars. That was a topic of conversation within the team.
“I believe that for team ownership … is to probably have cars that are specifically for this dirt track. If that means we take this car back next year, I’m completely fine with that. I was talking to Travis (Mack), our crew chief about that. What I know about this Next Gen car and how I’ve seen it up close and gotten underneath it, I feel like it would be mud-bogging with an IndyCar if we took this Next Gen car to the dirt track next year.”
He’s not alone in raising questions about how the Next Gen car could do on Bristol’s dirt.
Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske, said it is “something to certainly consider” not using the Next Gen car at Bristol next spring.
“If this (current) car was a challenge, it’s going to be a whole other set of challenges,” Geisler said of racing the Next Gen car on a dirt surface. “Certainly early in the season for the whole industry (with the Next Gen car in 2022), so we’ll still be kind of new to that car, which will make it even more challenging.
“(The current car) we kind of know so much about the history, kind of how things tear up, what happens throughout the course of events. … That body (of the Next Gen car) being totally different, all the suspension being different. I can’t really say independent rear suspensions have been run on dirt.”
What type of car is among many questions NASCAR and teams will have to answer before next year’s race.
“Certainly learned a number of things in the race and throughout the week that we can apply as we go forward in 2022,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said after Monday’s race.
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told “The Morning Drive” Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he anticipates a new tire for next year’s race. NASCAR altered the stage lengths and added competition cautions for the 250-lap Cup race because of high tire wear in Friday’s practices.
Another key question is what to do about whatever car is run and if it is worthwhile to remove the windshield, as is done with dirt cars.
That question was raised after the Trucks had to stop a qualifying race after one lap because of all the mud caked on the windshield and grille. Rain on Saturday canceled those races before they could resume.
“Those are things that we will talk about, but the windshield … in our cars, I realize that dirt cars don’t have windshields in them, but in our cars, the entire level of protection and level of safety is based on having the windshield in there,” Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“I think that’s not something we’re not going to look at. But because that windshield and the way that it is made can keep a lot of potential harm away from the driver, that might be a hard one to get for us. Certainly something we will get some feedback on and let everyone weigh in on.”
Just as important is the track, notes Marks, who formerly owned a World of Outlaws team with Kyle Larson. Some competitors had said months earlier they were concerned about dust and visibility because the race would be held during the day when the sun could dry the track quicker. Because of visibility issues with dust, NASCAR mandated single-file restarts over the final 85 laps of the Cup race.
Race winner Joey Logano said that “racing at night is the key” to avoiding some of the dust issues.
Even with the challenges of the past weekend, Marks applauds NASCAR for trying something different.
“There were a lot of unknowns,” he said of the first Cup race on dirt since 1970. “Given all those unknowns, I think they did a great job navigating it.
“I think there’s no way they were going to come into Bristol for this dirt race and walk away going like, ‘Oh that was perfect, perfect execution.’ … Steve O’Donnell sent an email out (Tuesday) morning to everybody saying that they’ve already started sort of taking a forensic audit of the weekend and started having discussions about how to make the show better for next year.”