Cup drivers prepare for heat in a scorcher at Nashville for Next Gen car

Nashville heat
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LEBANON, Tennessee – Kyle Larson will carry six extra pounds Sunday in his No. 5 Chevrolet, but it’s worth every ounce of cool comfort from the heat of a Nashville Superspeedway scorcher.

With temperatures hovering near 100 degrees this weekend for the second NASCAR Cup Series race at the 1.33-mile concrete track, Larson has been weathering the Nashville heat just fine since convincing crew chief Cliff Daniels last month to let him use a new cool suit that he tried during a brisk test at the Roval last year.

“I had it on, and it was freezing,” Larson said. “So yeah, I’ve been bugging (Daniels) to put it in my car all year. It’s like 6 pounds heavier than what we had before, but crew chiefs are worried about 6 pounds with a 3,500-pound car. He didn’t want to put it in, but it was starting to get hot, and I wasn’t feeling anything out of my old system.

“I was able to talk him into it, and it’s been great.”

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Even without Daniels (who is beginning a four-race suspension at Nashville), Larson was in good spirits about the chances to defend his win in last year’s inaugural event and seemed completely unaffected Friday by the blistering heat after a one-hour practice.

Many other drivers entered the media center with bright red faces and matted hair from sitting inside a Next Gen car that had major problems with airflow during testing last fall. NASCAR made changes with windshield ducts and exhaust systems that at least made it bearable.

“If we didn’t have that, no one would be making it now,” Joey Logano said.

Still, it still wasn’t as if he just flipped on the A/C in his No. 22 Ford Mustang.

“It’s like standing in front of a blow dryer,” Logano said. “Better than nothing, though.”

Sunday’s Cup race will be 300 laps, or about 40 percent longer than Saturday’s 188-lap Xfinity race, which was run in the mid-90s and ended with some drivers headed to the care center for fluids.

The scene likely will be similar Sunday in Cup, though many drivers have been combatting the heat with “cool suits” that circulate cold water through a series of hoses.

Logano donned one of the shirts for the first time at Sonoma Raceway and “now I’m spoiled and don’t ever not want to have it. It’s awesome.”

Denny Hamlin, who will start from the pole after a rain-shortened qualifying session Saturday, said he will wear a cool suit for the first time this season at Nashville because “why not take the luxury when you’ve got it,” but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver isn’t planning any extra preparation beyond his typical hydration routines.

“I typically don’t fight heat as much as other guys do,” he said. “I don’t know why. Probably because I’ve been doing it for a decade longer than most of them, but I don’t fight heat that much. … But it’ll be a factor (Sunday) for some for sure.”

Logano said he focuses on training outside on asphalt but also believes most Cup drivers are in good shape from training under race conditions for three hours virtually every week (Nashville will begin a stretch of 20 consecutive race weekends to end the 2022 season).

“The biggest thing the heat does is I feel it really limits your reaction times, your ability to think quickly, and then mistakes are happening,” he said. “You’ve got to be the best at the end.”

Chase Elliott has used cool suits, too, but also relies on the power of positive thinking

“Just embrace the heat, be the heat and tell yourself ‘It’s cold,’ ” Elliott said. “It’s about all you can do. There’s a lot of options but I think embracing it and telling yourself it is not hot is the best thing you can do.”

“I don’t think anybody’s immune to it. I think we all need to be mindful of it. And we are coming into this with these hot months with this car for the first time. If you’re seeing significant temperatures being higher than we have in the past three or four years, I think we should address it.”

Larson joked a few times he should “get a cut of sales” for evangelizing about the new Chillout system he has been using. It connects to his cool suit in the same manner as a previous system but has been more effective with the Next Gen.

“It’s just a different brand of what I had last year, but it is super good,” Larson said. “What we used last year used to work really well then, but these cars are a lot hotter, so the interior temp, I needed more out of it. I’d turn it on and wouldn’t feel anything. So we went to this new system, and it’s really good. I highly recommend it for all the teams out there.

“The heat could be a factor (Sunday) for some drivers who might not have the cooling I do. I’m not worried about it. I feel like we’ve done a really good job with our cars to please me. I know Cliff doesn’t like it because it’s a heavier system, but I feel great in the car.”

Larson also has the advantage of extra conditioning from his extracurricular dirt racing. Next week, he will be racing sprint cars nightly in Pennsylvania ahead of the July 3 race at Road America.

“I’ll do my best to stay hydrated, and it’s never bit me, but being out in the sun and racing as often as I do helps condition me,” he said. “I’m young and that helps, too. And I’m skinny.”

Larson was tipped off to his new system by Justin Allgaier, who used a different cooling setup while winning Saturday’s Xfinity race but had experience with ChillOut from testing the Next Gen for Chevrolet last year. The JR Motorsports driver said the system was so effective “it almost made me sick, just the shock of the cold water running through the suit.

“If we could fit that system in my car, I’d be running it in my (Xfinity) car as well,” Allgaier said. “These races are a hard go, and you get to the end, it’s hot, you’re exhausted, your heart rate is up, and the fresher you are, the more mentally prepared you are, the better you’re going to be. Kyle’s obviously a great race car driver, but if you can take any advantage you can, why wouldn’t you? And I think for all of us, just staying cool in these race cars, it’s going to extend the longevity of our racing careers for sure.”