NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup car: What is it and why it is needed

The NASCAR Next Gen is the future generation of chassis to be used in the Cup Series and is aimed at making the cars more cost-effective for race teams and car manufacturers, while simultaneously enhancing driver safety.

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NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup car: What is it and why it is needed

The Next Gen car (aka Gen-7) is being readied for introduction for the 2022 Cup Series season, having been postponed from 2021 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Its primary aim is to lower costs for teams and prove more attractive to OEMs (road car manufacturers) to join Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota in NASCAR competition.

“In my opinion, the importance of this car can’t be overstated,” said NASCAR president Steve Phelps. “There are many things that Next Gen will do for us as a sport when it rolls out in 2022. The styling is going to be amazing. I think the racing is going to be better based on the aerodynamics of the vehicle.

“The costs associated with the vehicle will be lower in terms of its absolute cost as well as the number of cars that will be necessary to run and run up front. Those are all wins for us.

“I believe new OEMs and the relevance of this sport, where this sport now ranks within the sports entertainment landscape, is different than it was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago. With that, as well as the Next Gen car coming out next year, I think there's going to be some renewed interest from an OEM perspective.” 

Team members make adjustments to the Nascar Next Gen car

Team members make adjustments to the Nascar Next Gen car

Photo by: NASCAR Media

Why does NASCAR need less expensive cars? 

Reality bit hard in America’s most-popular racing category when Furniture Row Racing went from champions in 2017 with Martin Truex Jr. to shuttering its doors just a year later, leaving many in the sport worried about its future viability and direction.  

Sponsorship revenues have dwindled for teams in the face of ever-rising costs, and this was before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world. 

With Jim France returning to the helm as its CEO, NASCAR was given all the steam it required to railroad through this completely new car design, in tandem with more flexibility in terms of the schedule and race formats. 

The NASCAR Next gen car sits in the garage

The NASCAR Next gen car sits in the garage

Photo by: NASCAR Media

What are the main changes?

The Next Gen car differs in concept from previous NASCAR stock car designs as it incorporates a carbonfiber tub inside its steel tube-frame construction, and features many common parts manufactured by single-source suppliers.

To improve safety, the driver has been moved 1.6-inches further towards the center of the car, and the door bars – to protect from side impact – have been moved further outwards. 

The aerodynamics are packaged to be adaptable to each kind of track that the series visits to provide the best racing – and for the first time features a diffuser under the rear of the car. 

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Replacing the traditional four-speed manual gearbox is a six-speed (five forwards, plus reverse) sequential shift transmission built by Xtrac. The rear axle has also been replaced by independent rear suspension for the first time. 

Another major change is the replacement of 15-inch wheels, featuring five lug nuts, with 18-inch BBS-supplied wheel rims (and lower-profile Goodyear tires) with a single, center-locking nut – which will have a huge impact during pitstops. This also provides space for a bigger brake package, which will allow for greater longevity of parts and require less cooling. 

The car has also been built to receive clamp-on refueling hoses, rather than gas canisters. 

From an aesthetics standpoint, manufacturers will be able to put their styling cues into body-side molding as well as signature character lines and hood design. 

The traditional 5.86-liter V8 engines have been retained, but with the proviso to accept a yet-to-be-defined future powertrain (potentially a V6) with a hybrid system in future years. Phelps added: “I know for a fact we will not have a new OEM unless we change our engine. I would be surprised if a new OEM came in without some type of electrification. I'm not talking about all-electric, I'm talking about a hybrid system.” 

The cars also have a split exhaust system, which now means exits on both sides, although this led to driver cooling concerns during testing. 

Another common complaint so far has been with the car’s steering system struggling to accept the loads on oval tracks.  

Joey Logano testing the next-gen stock car for Nascar Cup series

Joey Logano testing the next-gen stock car for Nascar Cup series

Photo by: Alejandro Alvarez / Nascar Digital Media

How has the car been developed? 

A prototype car, built by Richard Childress Racing, was first tested with a Chevrolet engine in late 2019. Further tests occurred over the following months, but this program was halted by the pandemic after Clint Bowyer drove a car at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2020. 

Testing resumed in August, and a second prototype – build by IMSA entrant Action Express Racing – was used initially for road course running with a Ford powerplant. The program ramped up when Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr tested both cars together at Charlotte – on both the oval and road courses – in November 2020.  

The following month, the car was tested on a superspeedway for the first time, at Daytona International Speedway in the hands of Chris Buescher. 

Chris Buescher drives the NASCAR Next gen car

Chris Buescher drives the NASCAR Next gen car

Photo by: NASCAR Media

What makes the car safer? 

Since Dale Earnhardt’s death at the last corner of the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR has pressed for improved safety at racetracks and within its cars and driver safety systems.  

The Next Gen car implements everything learned by NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, N.C. over the past 20 years.  

NASCAR’s senior director of safety engineering John Patalak explains that this has been the ideal opportunity to incorporate all those learnings, and to ‘beef-up’ the integrity of the chassis, while still meeting the weight target of 3,200lb (1,451kg) without driver and fuel. 

“It’s always a great opportunity to have a clean-sheet design like this,” he said. “As you go along and roll out changes to the existing fleet of cars, that’s always a cost associated with adding those new parts, but with Next Gen, we’ve not been constrained by an existing chassis. 

“We could start with engineering goals – so the designers could cut loose and hit those goals – so everything can be stronger in a lot of areas with the same amount of weight of today’s cars. It’s a lot more efficient.” 

Chris Buescher drives the NASCAR Next gen car

Chris Buescher drives the NASCAR Next gen car

Photo by: NASCAR Media

Which manufacturers have signed up? 

NASCAR has approved designs by all three current manufacturers – Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. They will have their own models on track together for the first time in March at Martinsville Speedway, in a wheel-force data collection test. 

The unveiling of the manufacturers’ cars is set for ‘late Spring’ according to John Probst, NASCAR senior VP of racing innovation. 

“In hindsight, when we were on target for 2021 and now we’ve gone through all of this, we look back and boy, we probably would’ve had our tongues hanging out right now if we were to launch it in 2021, which we could’ve done,” said Probst. “I think we’re certainly on schedule. We’re probably actually being able to spend a little more time since we pushed it out to 2022, focusing on a lot of the line-item costs.” 

A team member makes adjustments to the NASCAR Next gen car

A team member makes adjustments to the NASCAR Next gen car

Photo by: NASCAR Media

What comes next? 

Seven tests are scheduled for wheel-force transducer Next Gen cars, plus three organizational tests for teams. Probst revealed that at least one organizational test would take place after the Charlotte Roval race on October 10, with two more set for after the season ends.

Toyota Racing’s David Wilson said of the plans going forward: “The cars that have been testing so far are mules, effectively, with a neutral, agnostic body strapped on to them. One of the next steps is for us each to run our bodies and our engines. We have not put a Toyota engine in a Next Gen car to test yet. So that’s all going to happen pretty quickly this Spring.

“It’s NASCAR’s leadership, and we’ll have a wheel force transducer car that we’ll be taking to the track in the next few weeks. I think it’ll be the summer before the hardware is ready to be distributed to the teams, so you can envision a fairly massive supplier base – this is part of the formula, most of the components are coming from centralized suppliers.

“So they’ll be gearing up their manufacturing and distribution in the background. Then the teams will take delivery of the parts and pieces.”

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Series NASCAR Cup
Author Charles Bradley
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