NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The celebration is over. The party has ended. While there might be some hangovers from Thursday night’s coronation of Cup champion Kyle Larson, Friday brings NASCAR one day closer to the start of the 2022 season.
And with it, questions remain about the Next Gen car.
NASCAR seeks to find some answers in the wind tunnel Friday. Officials will take what is learned there and apply it to a three-car test Dec. 10 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval. That precedes an organizational test there for all Cup teams Dec. 15 and 17.
The car’s handling, particularly in traffic during two tests days at Charlotte last month, raised concerns — even more than the slower speeds.
Joey Logano will be among those taking part in the three-car test next week.
“I think right now we just need to figure out how do we get cars as close as possible and race as good as we can,” he said Thursday before the NASCAR Awards program. “There’s a lot of pieces to this new car that will allow that.”
The design of the new car, though, has changed where the aerodynamic “dirty air” affects a trailing car.
“If you could imagine a boat where the wake would get wide but to the right,” Logano said of the previous car. “So, if you’re three car lengths back, and you move to the right, you’re done. You’d rather go to the left or stay right behind the car. It was worse if you went to the right.
“Now (with the Next Gen car), if you go to the right, it’s cleaner air. … Almost like the (leading) car isn’t even there. That part is a huge gain. It’s getting that when you’re actually behind a car better. That wake is bigger right now.
“You can imagine all the air is funneling right behind (the leading car) instead of being dispersed all the way across it. That part is where I think we can make some adjustments to make it better, but I think there’s definitely some great signs of hope to fix ‘dirty air’ on ovals.”
Kevin Harvick said more horsepower is needed. Teams originally were at 550 horsepower at last month’s Charlotte test. Teams were allowed to try some different things to improve speed and handling. Stewart-Haas Racing went with a different tapered spacer that generated closer to 670 horsepower.
“Right now, you don’t have enough power to start a pass when somebody (ahead) screws up,” Harvick said of the 550-horsepower package for intermediate tracks. “I think that the power is key.
“There’s no way the car behind you is ever going to be as good as the car in front of you. … Everybody wants the car to be hard to drive, but you want a balanced car that you can work on and be able to make the car driver better than somebody else’s.”
Harvick said he would like NASCAR to give teams more horsepower on bigger tracks.
“I think the easiest thing to do is to make it the same as the short track engine package,” he said of the 670-horsepower package that will be used at short tracks and road courses. “Make it as easy on the engine shop as possible.
“If I was in charge, I would send that press release out yesterday, that a we’re going to go to more horsepower.”
Whatever is done, Denny Hamlin said needs to happen soon.
“I think it’s going to be very, very important for NASCAR to really be organized in this Charlotte test and, honestly, just come up with a plan of like good, bad or indifferent, this is what we’re going to do,” Hamlin said.
One concern he has is the with the supply chain for parts with the new car should the latest COVID-19 variant halt or slow production of items used for it.
“The supply chain issue is what we’re kind of worried about,” he said. “Any more changes, we’re 60 days from racing. We’re nervous. We’ve got to lock it in.
“I believe that we do collectively have some good ideas of how to race this car better and drive better. The (Car of Tomorrow) was a mess when we started it, and it got better. I hope we can do the same with this car.”
Logano is confident that will happen, but he notes it will take patience, not only from competitors but from fans.
“There will be learning curves with this car,” Logano said. “For our whole industry, we have to be a little bit patient because it’s the biggest change in the history of our sport. Richard Petty told me that, so I know it’s true.
“We have to be careful not to say this is going to be the savior and going to be everything and completely fix all of our issues immediately. It’s so different.
“We have a lot to learn, so we have to be a little bit patient on how this car is going to be. The theory and where we’re going with it is going to be fantastic for our sport.”
2. Words to ponder
It has been called “the best-kept secret” in NASCAR.
No, it’s not some setup sheet. It is the journal that gets passed from one Cup champion to the next.
Jimmie Johnson started it in 2011 after a chat with NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton about how nothing was passed between champions. The existence of this journal was hidden until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media giving the journal to Martin Truex Jr.
Exactly what the champions write is largely held private.
Kyle Busch said he filled a page in his letter to Chase Elliott.
“I guess I just was kind of explaining like, ‘Hey, this is new territory for you, but this is a territory where you can not necessarily change the sport or change the world, but man, just live it up, and enjoy it and know that you’re Chase Elliott and now that you’re a champion, you’ve made it in this sport,’ ” Busch said in January.
With Kyle Larson winning this year’s title, it soon will be time for Elliott to give the journal to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
“One of the coolest parts about being champion, I feel like, is having that,” Elliott said of the journal before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards program. “I haven’t given it to Kyle yet. I’m going to write in it probably the next week or so and give it to him around our Christmas party at Hendrick.
“It’s a great honor to have seen (the journal) and to have read what is in it and to be able to pass that along. I think it’s one of the coolest things that we do. … I just wish it went back further. I think it would be incredible. I can’t wait for the champion in 2050 or 2040 or whatever to get that and read what some of the greats have written, like Tony (Stewart) and Jimmie.”
As Elliott ponders his words to Larson, will he write something personal to his teammate or something more broad in scope?
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Elliott said. “I haven’t decided exactly how I want to angle it. Even if I had, I probably wouldn’t share it. That’s kind of the whole point of the book is for no one else to know what is in it. So, whatever I decide I’ll make a personal decision and try to make it special.”
3. Special trip
Cup champion Kyle Larson will attend the Dec. 12 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the season-ending event for Formula 1.
“I’ll be a race fan and am really excited about it,” Larson said.
He’ll be there only on race day, limiting his chances to meet any competitors.
“I hope I can meet drivers, team managers … and just meet as many people as I can and just kind of enjoy the whole experience,” he said.
Asked what he would want to talk to F1 drivers about, Larson said: “I just hope that people know who I am. I hope I go there and have people know because I feel like that naturally starts a conversation. I’m not one to go up and talk about myself.”
Larson said he’s sure this trip will give him a greater appreciation for F1.
“I’m not like a car guy, so I haven’t ever in the past gotten into the technology side of it or anything like that, but I think once I go to this Formula 1 race, I’ll have a way different appreciation and just curiosity about the cars and the technology,” he said.
4. Baby names
Kyle and Samantha Busch documented their struggles to have a child before son Brexton was born in May 2015. The couple continued to share their experiences as they sought to have a second child.
Unable to do so, they will have a surrogate carry a baby girl for them, sharing the news Nov. 16.
“Early on, in the transfer with the surrogate, we have certainly tried to hold our emotions down, don’t let them get too high,” Kyle Busch said. “Since we announced, we announced after the quote-unquote safe period of 12 weeks, so we feel pretty good that it should come through and should have a baby girl in May.
“That’s been really great just to get to that part of that. I’m sure it is disappointing and a little hurt sets into Samantha with not having that ability to carry. She did with Brexton and that’s the greatest thing that she has ever done and felt and been a part of.
“She’ll obviously miss that with this one, and she even said ‘Now I kind of feel like the husband of the relationship because I’m not carrying it, but there is something going on and there is something big happening, but yet I really don’t know about it. I’m not intertwined in it until it happens.’ Now she sees my side of the fence a little bit. Her and the surrogate have a great relationship and they talk daily.”
As they look ahead, one of the key decisions will be to come up with a girl’s name. They’re not set on a name at this point.
“This one is harder,” Kyle Busch said. “Brexton was easy. We wanted to give him the B.B. initial. this one, we’re wide open. We don’t have have a first initial picked out. I think instead of having about 20 names to choose from we’re on 500 or something.”
5. Full circle
The last time NASCAR was in Nashville for the Cup awards was 2019. It was an awful time for Daniel Hemric.
He was there to be honored as the Cup Rookie of the Year, but he was without a ride for the following season.
“You felt like your life was unraveling,” Hemric said. “My wife was a pregnant. … All those emotions.
“I remember that week, as her and I walked around town, I ended up buying a sport coat. Spent a little money on it. I thought, ‘I’m going to wear this with pride.”
When he returned to Nashville this week as the Xfinity Series champion, he brought that sport coat with him and wore it Wednesday as he NASCAR took photos of the series champions in various locations in the city.
“That’s pretty cool,” Hemric said. “A full-circle moment.”