CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR concluded its Next Gen testing for the year Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and announced a horsepower change for the 2022 season.
On the second day of the second round of testing, teams tested three configurations on the 1.5-mile oval: a 6-inch offset spoiler, a 6-inch centered spoiler and a 4-inch centered spoiler.
All three were run with 670 horsepower, which NASCAR senior vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell confirmed would be the likely engine specification for the 2022 season at all tracks with the exception of Daytona International Superspeedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I would say we’re more than likely going with that (670 horsepower) number across all of our tracks,” O’Donnell said Friday morning during the test. “We’ve still got a few boxes to check post-test here where we get together with our (engine manufacturers) and the teams to just confirm that’s the direction we want to go with, but everything we’ve seen so far tells us that’s the horsepower we want to target and go with.”
Because of their banking and length, Daytona and Talladega have required NASCAR to implement engine restrictions to moderate speeds since 1988. Atlanta is being repaved and reconfigured for 2022 in a manner that is expected to produce the pack style racing of Daytona and Talladega.
For the past three seasons, NASCAR has switched between two horsepower packages depending on a track’s length. Most faster and larger speedways have been run with 550 horsepower (while short tracks and road courses used 750 horsepower), but results were deemed unsatisfactory after testing with that engine at Charlotte last month and Wednesday.
NASCAR had implemented 550 horsepower in 2019 to engender more pack racing at 1.5-mile tracks. That requires full-throttle speeds, and there were questions whether drivers would have to crack the accelerator with 550 horsepower on the Next Gen, which has featured more difficult handling in testing.
“The simple factor is how much drag is built into this car,” O’ Donnell said. “When you look at a 550 package, to produce some of the similar results you saw, the horsepower levels would have to be so low, that we just don’t think it’s the right move at this point. You can certainly go out there and run 550, but from what we’ve seen in comparison of 550 to 670, we lean more toward 670. Certainly a little more spread out when you restart a race.
“But with the tire wear and what Goodyear has been able to do, what you’re seeing is the comers and goes that we used to have in racing. The ability to maintain speeds and at this point, it’s just getting the drivers to a comfort level where you can run two wide. Where you have the ability to pass. Where we don’t have that wake that’s so noticeable in the past. (With) this package, hopefully you’ll see some movement throughout the field throughout a run”.
The 550-horsepower engine on the Next Gen car had produced speeds that were more than 2 seconds off the best lap by the Gen 6 car in its final practice on the oval last May.
In switching to the 670 horsepower engine and making aerodynamic adjustments for this week’s testing, NASCAR was able to raise speeds above 180 mph at Charlotte and ahead of the Gen 6.
There were questions about whether engine suppliers could handle producing the inventory of 670-horsepower engines for tracks that traditionally were 550.
O’Donnell said NASCAR met with manufacturers and teams about the options for moving to 670 two weeks ago during awards ceremony activities in Nashville, Tennessee.
“At that time, I think there was an inventory challenge,” O’Donnell said. “Could we get there, not across the season, but for (the early season races in) California and Vegas? Everyone was good beyond that. The conversations we’ve had with the team members, they feel like they can get there. We just want to have one final conversation post-test here.”
After beginning at 8 a.m. Friday and allowing the 18 cars at the test to make setup adjustments with individual runs for two hours, NASCAR organized group testing with 30-lap runs in each configuration to test handling in traffic. The groups were ordered from fastest to slowest based off individual lap speeds.
There were multiple minor incidents Friday morning, beginning with William Byron suffering a flat left-rear tire an hour into the session. Byron was OK, and his No. 24 Chevrolet suffered minor right-rear damage.
At 10:15 a.m., Tyler Reddick spun off Turn 4 but avoided major damage to his No. 8 Chevrolet. The Richard Childress Racing driver missed the last half of Wednesday’s test after hitting the barrels at the pit entrance.
Here is a replay of the No. 24 car's incident. pic.twitter.com/v6v4TSQdtO
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) December 17, 2021
NASCAR planned to debrief again with drivers after a final group session at 3 p.m.
Reddick, who spun a second time Friday without incident, said the cars were more on edge, “which is a good thing” as NASCAR honed in on the final package with various aerodynamic devices.
“Certainly I think with the 670 horsepower, there’s a fine line, ” said Reddick, who also was involved in a two-car spin (neither was damaged) during the final group session Friday. “We just have to find it with the spoiler, the amount of sideforce that we’re going to have with these cars with the shark fin or things we can change underneath (the car) and to the diffuser. It’s just about finding the right balance. I think we could have made it work with 550. I think we can make it work with 670.
“It’s just you’ve got to move around some other things to make it all match up right. It’s great for the cars to be at the handling edge by themselves. You don’t want to be boxed in to where you get within eight or nine car lengths of somebody that you can’t do anything with it because you’ve lost too much front downforce. We just have to keep working on that.”
Next Gen testing will continue Jan. 5-6 at Atlanta, Jan. 11-12 at Daytona and Jan. 24-25 session at Phoenix Raceway.
Dr. Eric Jacuzzi, NASCAR’s managing director of aerodynamics and vehicle performance said the rules were “95 percent there as far as parts and pieces” for next season, and the 2022 aero package should be finalized by early next week.