CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR’s next generation race car is finally here after two years of hype and hope that it will revolutionize the stock car series.
How can a spec car radically change a sport?
Competition. Cost containment. Manufacturer relevance.
The Next Gen car, first proposed in 2018 and originally slated to debut this season until the pandemic delayed it until 2022, is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between NASCAR and its partners with everyone focused on the future. All parties had to work toward creating a car that served the entire industry.
“I think the world is just going to look a lot different at NASCAR once you get to the Next Gen car,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said. “The dynamics are going to change so significantly. There are many things that Next Gen will do for us as a sport when it rolls out.”
For the first time in NASCAR’s 73-year history, single-source manufacturers will build the chassis, provide parts and supply the carbon composite body. But each individual manufacturer has the flexibility to design the shell to at last resemble the Camaros
That critical manufacturer relevance stretches far beyond, say, a Chevy on the race track actually looking like a Chevy that catches your eye at a stoplight.
The Next Gen also led NASCAR to modern upgrades found on today’s street cars — rack-and-pinion steering, independent rear suspension, bigger wheels and upgraded connectivity to allow for an in-car camera in every vehicle. The Next Gen also is built with an eye on relevancy in the future and the ability for adaptation as technology continues to change.
The Next Gen should make NASCAR appealing to other manufacturers, particularly as hybrid technology is explored. The new car, for now, will continue to use internal combustion, pushrod V8 engines produced by each of the three manufacturers.
“We are future-proofing the car to enable hybrid,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director at Ford Performance Motorsports. “We think that is important as our road car cycles changes to be able to race hybrid in this car as well.”
The Next Gen has sparked interest in ownership, and three new teams entered the top Cup Series this year. Michael Jordan is now an owner alongside three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, Pitbull entered into a partnership with former driver Justin Marks, and former driver Matt Tifft has a team with current driver B.J. McLeod.
The car is expected to dramatically contain costs in large part because of its single supplier chains, and teams will be limited to seven cars at a given time instead of an unlimited fleet, making ownership appealing for the first time in several years. It sparked a bidding war last summer on the charters that guarantee entry for 36 cars into the 40-car NASCAR Cup field each week.
The biggest test of the Next Gen will come on the track.
NASCAR has said the car will improve competition and that will be where the car will ultimately be judged. Although the Cup Series has 10 winners through 11 races so far this season, it has been an anomaly of a year so far in that a handful of teams and drivers typically dominate.
Kevin Harvick and Hamlin combined to win 16 of 36 races last year before Chase Elliott snatched the title for Hendrick Motorsports; Joe Gibbs Racing won 19 races and the championship in 2019.
The Next Gen, though, is designed to give drivers greater control while putting an emphasis back on race strategy, team personnel and vehicle setup. The symmetric body shape significantly reduces side-force, which in theory should make the cars harder to drive through corners — NASCAR’s current car is offset, not symmetric.
The composite body is designed to minimize in-race damage that would otherwise affect the car’s handling and lead to further incidents that could alter a race. And the new, wider tires are designed to allow Goodyear to bring a softer compound to improve passing and strategy options.