Friday 5: Key stretch begins for NASCAR in development of Next Gen car

1 Comment

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.”

NASCAR Cup Series Test
Kevin Harvick says increasing the horsepower on the Next Gen car should be done. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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.

NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500
Chase Elliott says he plans to give the champion’s journal to Kyle Larson later this month. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

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.

NASCAR Champion's Banquet
Kyle and Samantha Busch will have a surrogate deliver a baby girl for them in May. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“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.

NASCAR Champion's Portraits
Daniel Hemric with the sport coat that carried extra meaning this week. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

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.”

 and on Facebook

What drivers said at WWT Raceway


Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

Kyle Busch — Winner: “Just the restarts kind of went our way. We were able to get through on the outside on that one and push (Kyle) Larson out, then he took bottom of (Turns) 3 and 4, I was able to carry the momentum around the high side to take the lead. That was really important. I think that was kind of the key moment of us being able to win today. Being able to control the rest of the restarts for the rest of the race. Kyle is one of the best. It’s good to be able to sit up here and race hard with him, being a Team Chevy partner. He gave me great respect, I appreciate that. That will be given back down the road.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I thought we were super dialed if it was 95 degrees like it was supposed to be with those delays – it kind of took away from the advantage I thought that we had. I’m proud of this whole Sport Clips Toyota team – pit crew did a phenomenal job keeping us in it and doing really good on the money stop with about 60 to go. We are going to have to wait another to get that 50th (win).”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “I’m proud of the fight. We were mediocre – just outside the top five all day long. There was a group of cars that were a tick better than us. Then we executed at the end and beat a few of them. We tried some new things from last year, and we learned some lessons. But overall: Good. We needed a solid run. We’ve been going through hell here lately. So, it’s nice to get a top five, third place, and some points there in each stage. Good day.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 4th: “Proud of the effort today. It’s been a couple tough races. We’ve been so good all year long and the last few have been pretty bad and we’ve had to work on it quite a bit. The team got us in a place where we could contend for the win, so you can’t ask for much more than that. …  I wish I would have done a better job. When I was the leader, I hadn’t been at the front all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where people were running on restarts, and I didn’t know how hard they could go. I just got kind of caught off guard and lost the control.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “Started off the race near the front and stayed there through Stage 1 and thought we could get a little bit better and maybe have a shot at the couple, three in front of us. We had a pit road penalty and had to go to the back, and it was just an uphill climb from there. Just really tough to get through the field. We got some damage from when someone’s brake rotor exploded, that slowed us down even more. Really with all we went through today, a top-five is a really good day for us. I’m proud of the effort.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 6th: “We ran pretty good today. Won the second stage which was good, second in the first stage. Just kind of lost track position, lost the lead. Through a couple stops and restarts, we could just never really get it back. I thought that (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin) and I were similar. It was just a matter of who was out front. I just got a bad restart at the end and fell to sixth. But overall, it wasn’t a bad day. It was a good points day too, and we’ll keep going.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 7th: “The entire weekend was very solid for us. We barely missed the second run in qualifying and really, we missed it because of me and not because of the car. The car was capable of advancing. In the race, the car was strong right away. It was fun today and we really needed this as a team. We needed a result that we deserved, and I felt like lately it’s been a little difficult on us when it comes to that. Today, I felt like we deserved a top-10 or top-five and we came home seventh, so we will take it.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 9th: “We kind of learned last year that track position is super important. Taking two tires was an option last year, so we knew it’d be one this year. We did it early on and got track position, but we got spun out. So, went all the way to the back and then we put four on, and then you’re just buried back there. So, we had to go for it again, put two on and just left two on. We never took four again. There were a lot of laps on the left-side tires, but track position was super important. We had a great FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang, so I knew we could kind of hold our ground. Those last few cautions kind of hurt us a bit, but still came away with a Top-10. So, it was a good day.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 12th: “That was a long day – long race. There were a lot of cautions and red flags. It really started yesterday. I was in a little bit of a hole after qualifying, and I just didn’t do a good job. I had to dig out of that today. We had pretty good speed in our Fastenal Ford Mustang. I was pretty happy with it, and at times, had to move around the track quite a bit. I figured out Gateway really quickly. Not being able to run here last year, I felt a little behind getting going. Definitely found something there at the end. Honestly wish it was a 600-mile race because I felt like we could have kept getting better.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 13th: “Definitely frustrating having a speeding penalty … I’m a little frustrated with myself with that. You think something at the end of Stage 1 isn’t going to affect your race, but it just put us behind. We tried a bunch of strategy calls to get our Freightliner Ford Mustang up there. Had some good restarts at the end and made the most of it, I feel like. Those restarts got really scrappy. Proud of the team effort, proud of the recovery. Definitely a lot to clean up on my end to maximize what I thought was a Top-10 race car.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 17th: “That was a really long day. I fought a tight race car all day long and every time we came down pit road, my guys made really strong adjustments. It just wasn’t enough to get us to the front and stay there. There were so many cautions there at the end, I was just trying to save the car. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible day for us after qualifying 29th. The fans were out in full force today, too, that was awesome to see. We’ve just got to keep grinding for better finishes.”

Erik Jones — Finished 18th: “Just an up-and-down day for the No. 43 Chevy team. Didn’t end up how we wanted it to go, but we’ll go to work and get the car a bit better. I thought we had good speed, just didn’t have things go our way. We’ll work on it and hopefully go to Sonoma (Raceway) and have a solid day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 19th: “We battled handing issues all day and just couldn’t find it. We were loose to start the day and it felt like our car was tight on aero and loose mechanically. Our long-run speed was really all we had today and we could pass cars late in the run, but we had so many cautions in the final stage we didn’t have the chance to run those cars down. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) put me on offense on the last 20 laps with fresh tires and I thought we could’ve driven up to 15th, but someone missed a shift on the last restart and stacked us up and put us behind. Just one of those days. We had to battle to get all we could get.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 32nd: “We kept our track position just like we wanted to. We got stage points, and I felt like we had a top-eight or so car, which was a big difference from last year. Obviously we’re striving to be better everywhere. We had a really good streak going of really good runs. It looked like the No. 2 (Austin Cindric) just, for some reason, right-reared the No. 3 (Austin Dillon) and took both of us Chevy guys out, so that’s a bummer. We definitely had a top-10 car today.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 34th: “Our day kind of went bad early on, but our McDonald’s Camry was able to get through traffic pretty well, but as the track stated to cool off, it just started going away from us. It was starting to get frustrating out there for sure, to have a car that good, and it felt like it was just going away. I had a bad feeling that was coming soon. I was just getting ready to have to back off with how soft the brakes got, but I obviously should have been thinking about that a lap or two sooner.”

Carson Hocevar — Finished 36th: “I thought it was great. I had a blast. Just so thankful for the opportunity. I don’t have a job for next year. I know Al Niece and Cody Efaw wants me to run for them and I will forever run a race or however many. But man, I’m just so thankful that they gave me the opportunity – the opportunity to drive a Xfinity car and now driving a Cup car. I was running 16th.. just so surreal for the first time ever. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot for Schluter Systems, Celsius, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sparks and the No. 7 Chevy team. Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”

Cup results at WWT Raceway, driver points


Kyle Busch scored his third Cup victory of the season, winning Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime.

Busch is tied with William Byron for most victories this season. Busch and Byron have combined to win three of the last six Cup points races (two by Busch and one by Byron).

MORE: WWT Raceway Cup results

MORE: Cup driver standings after WWT Raceway

Denny Hamlin finished second. Joey Logano placed third. Kyle Larson overcame struggles early in the race to finish fourth. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

Ryan Blaney placed sixth and took the points lead from Ross Chastain, who placed 22nd. Chastain fell to fifth in the standings.

Kyle Busch wins Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime


Kyle Busch scored his third victory of the season Sunday, holding off the field on five restarts in the final 45 laps at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Busch’s previous two wins this season were at Fontana and Talladega. Sunday’s win is the 63rd of his Cup career. He started on the pole and led 121 of 243 laps — including the last 60 — in a race extended three laps by overtime.

MORE: Race results, driver points 

MORE: What drivers had to say

“That was pretty awesome,” Busch said to FS1. “Man, to sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps and have my guys do such a great job today was pretty phenomenal for us.”

Denny Hamlin finished second and was followed by Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr.

Sunday’s race featured an event-record 11 cautions. Failures with brake rotors led to crashes by Carson Hocevar, Tyler Reddick, Noah Gragson and Bubba Wallace.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ryan Blaney

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Denny Hamlin’s runner-up finish is his fourth top-five result of the year. All have come in the last seven races. … Joey Logano’s third-place finish was his first top-five result since Martinsville in April. … Ryan Blaney finished sixth for his sixth top 10 in the last seven races and took the points lead from Ross Chastain. … Michael McDowell‘s ninth-place finish is his second top 10 of the year.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brad Keselowski, making his 500th career Cup start, had mechanical issues early that left his car underpowered for most of the event. He finished 28th. … Carson Hocevar, making his Cup debut, was running 16th when a brake rotor failed and he crashed, finishing last. … Tyler Reddick spun early in race. After getting back toward the front, a brake rotor failed and he crashed, finishing 35th.

NOTABLE: This is the 11th time in Kyle Busch’s Cup career that he has had at least three wins in a season.

NEXT: The series races June 11 at Sonoma Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox)

Corey LaJoie learning in his week with Chase Elliott’s team


Spending this week with Hendrick Motorsports has proved eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.

He will pilot Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin during last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to drive in the best equipment of his career.

MORE: Corey LaJoie not giving up on his dream 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race

Working with Elliott’s team also has given LaJoie an inside look as to what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who starts 30th after tagging the wall during his qualifying lap. “There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.

“But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief.

“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap) … if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19.

“There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.

“The inner-team competition is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have that … the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR at the track) … all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.”

It would be easy for LaJoie to be overwhelmed in this situation. His career has been marked with underfunded rides and trying to make the most of his equipment. He’s having his best season in Cup this year. LaJoie ranks 19th in points heading into today’s race.

LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he also can’t let it alter his focus.

“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental … (about) my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or the No. 9 is on it.

“I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there.”

When he returns to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.

“How I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change,” LaJoie said. “I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”