- NASCAR is just over two months away from introducing its Next Gen car to competition
- Fox Sports analyst Larry McReynolds believes developers are down to relatively minor tweaks
- McReynolds says the year-long delay because of the pandemic worked to NASCAR’s advantage
When last we heard from Larry McReynolds, Fox Sports’ longtime motorsports analyst, the former crew chief warned that NASCAR only had one chance to get the Next Gen Car right. McReynolds was concerned that the clock was ticking, but there were still unknowns about NASCAR’s seventh-generation car that will roll out in February.
Having witnessed some of the latest testing and spoken to drivers and crew chiefs, McReynolds is ready to endorse the car.
Larry McReynolds says the pandemic worked in Next Gen car’s favor
NASCAR periodically updates its race cars to incorporate new technology and improve both safety and the quality of racing. The current model evolved from the Car of Tomorrow, which rolled out in 2008 largely in response to Dale Earnhardt’s death at the 2001 Daytona 500 and the need to upgrade safety features.
NASCAR has gone two decades without a Cup Series fatality, so the Car of Tomorrow was a success with respect to safety. However, critics panned it for stymying the quality of racing, and the sport moved to new chassis designs and other alterations for the 2013 season. Naturally, there were more complaints, hence six more years of incremental changes.
In 2019, NASCAR decided it was time to start over. They studied the current model and began working on the Next Gen car. A prototype by Richard Childress Racing made it through multiple rounds of testing before the pandemic brought out the red flag.
Within weeks, NASCAR announced that the projected 2021 rollout was no longer practical. In retrospect, Larry McReynolds says, that saved the sport from embarrassing itself.
“The good thing — at least from my observation while watching this whole product develop for well over two years now — is that the pandemic prolonged the Next Gen car for a year,” McReynolds told Forbes. “It was not ready one year ago in many aspects. The pandemic did it a favor.”
Larry McReynolds: ‘It looks like a racecar, and it sounds like a racecar’
NASCAR ratcheted up development of the Next Gen car in mid-2020 and held several test sessions for Cup Series teams during the just-completed season. More testing is scheduled between now and The Busch Clash in early February, which will mark Next Gen’s debut.
Concerns this summer about the steering column and heat buildups have given way to disappointment about racing speeds, which may require kicking up the horsepower. However, drivers and crew chiefs have generally given Next Gen passing grades. With just over two months left before the rollout on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s quarter-mile track, insiders are confident that developers are down to minor tweaks.
“It looks like they’re going to end up going in the direction of where we went with the old package at the smaller tracks,” said McReynolds, who won the 1998 Daytona 500 with Dale Earnhardt. “From the first time I saw this car in person, they have checked a lot of boxes. It looks good. It looks like a racecar, and it sounds like a racecar.”
NASCAR enters the plug-and-play era with Next Gen car
With the 2021 Cup Series season barely in the books, multiple teams traveled to Charlotte Motor Speedway two weeks ago for new rounds of Next Gen car testing.
It was there that people in the sport saw one of the selling points of Next Gen cars up close. Early in the first day of testing, Austin Dillon wrecked what will likely become the official No. 3 Chevy with a hard hit of the wall coming through a turn.
Even under optimal conditions, making the necessary repairs on-site would have been impossible at a race venue this summer. With teams in Charlotte only to test, everything that Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing crew needed was back at their shop, more than an hour away.
Swapping out the composite body and standardized parts that are relatively easy to replace, RCR returned the car to the track in time for Dillon to turn more laps by nightfall.
“If that would’ve happened with our older car, you would’ve been lucky to have it back on the track in two weeks,” McReynolds said.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.