By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
The unveiling of NASCAR’s Next Gen cars for the Cup Series left 2018 champion Joey Logano excited for the opportunity to control his own destiny.
The Future is Now
For the first time in decades, NASCAR has completely revamped the car that showcases its’ premier Series, the Cup Series. New independent rear suspension, a sealed underpan with a diffuser, and sequential five-gear transmission are just some of the changes. The radical changes, for NASCAR, are partnered with an increased brand identity for each manufacturer.
Each manufacturer is continuing with their current model in the NASCAR Cup Series. Team Chevy continues with the Camaro ZL1 1LE. Ford Performance still has the Mustang on track. Toyota Racing has the Camry.
The most recent change in car design was 2013. In that year, the the body shifted from the Gen 5 ‘Car of Tomorrow’ to the Gen 6 car. While two teams, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), combined for 21 victories that season, the 2013 season saw 12 different winners in the first 20 races.
Like the Gen 6 car, and the Gen 5 before it, Logano expects one or two teams to find a setup that will be successful before others.
“I think it’s more exciting and a little more fun for all of us because the opportunity is there,” explained Logano. “We have an amazing opportunity in front of us to redo everything. The pit crew, with single lug nuts, they’ll have to change. There’s an opportunity to figure that out before the competitors.
“You’re not going to get beat by someone with a lighter spindle or a piece you can’t develop because your team can’t. That’s not going to be an excuse anymore. It’s going to be the best of the best. It’s going to change the first few races. There’s going to be this back and forth where there’s a team that hits on a setup that works on 1.5-mile tracks, then one on short tracks. It will keep changing.”
Drivers Controlling Their Destiny
The shift from the Gen 6 car to the Next Gen car is the second car generational shift that Logano has experienced. In the era of the Gen 5 car, the Middletown, CT native earned just two victories. To date in the Gen 6 era, Logano has earned 25 victories.
One factor that also drove the increase in wins for the 30-year-old was a shift from JGR to Team Penske. Much of Logano’s destiny was determined by the team, crew chief, and pit crew that he had around him.
Currently, many of the parts on each Gen 6 car is made by each NASCAR team. For the Next Gen car, many of those same parts, brakes, clutch, composite bodies, control arms, fuel cell, and more are made by independent vendors selected by NASCAR. That takes much of what the teams once controlled out of their hands.
Among the vendors for the Next Gen car are Dallara, Five Star Race Car Bodies, McLaren, Technique Chassis LLC, etc. Richard Childress Racing Manufacturing Solutions and Jack Roush’s Roush Advanced Composites and Roush Yates Manufacturing Solutions will also supply parts.
With the Next Gen car, Logano expects each driver’s destiny to be more in control of the individual than of those currently making the parts in the race shop.
“I think in a way I will control my destiny even more,” elaborated Logano. “From a driver’s perspective, you might see it be even more on the drivers at this point. As a team, there’s still plenty of areas to race. There’s plenty of areas we can look at and try to be better at and look for a competitive edge.”
History Getting Up to Speed
Historically, a change in car saw some experienced and championship winning drivers go winless in the ensuing season. Jeff Gordon had his first winless season in 2008, the first full season of the Gen 5 car.
Teams also faced difficulties shifting from one generation of car to another. The win tallies of both Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing flattened in the Gen 6 era compared to the marked success both had in NASCAR’s Gen 4 and Gen 5 eras.
Logano hinted that some drivers and teams may face the same difficulties that others have faced before.
“It’s hard to say, I mean, do we have our heads wrapped around the car that we have now?” admitted Logano. “I don’t know. It’s always evolving. You’re never where you want to be in sport, you’re always looking for more. I think as soon as you get comfortable, this is where I’m supposed to be, the next week you get beat. That’s how it works.
“The initial year of this car, every track is going to be a new track. It’s just how it’s going to feel. You’re going to have to go out there, learn what you need in your racecar, the dirty air, and the strategy of the (Next Gen car). Every piece of this car is different, the brakes, tires, body, they even added another gear. It’s going to take forever to get somewhat close to refining it to a smaller box.”
NASCAR’s Next Gen car debuts in the 2022 Busch Clash at Daytona International Speedway in February. The first points race will be the Daytona 500. NASCAR plans to have several test sessions later this year with multiple Next Gen cars on track.
The Next Gen car makes its competitive debut virtually in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series at the virtual Darlington Raceway.
Feature Photo Credit: Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images via NASCAR Media