LAS VEGAS – With two points and one exhibition race already run, NASCAR Cup drivers are still trying to figure out how to drive the Next Gen cars.
When it was first announced, the objective of the new car was to be less dependent upon engineering and aero, thus putting the racing back into the driver’s hands. And, after last week’s practice session at Auto Club Speedway when 10 drivers lost control of their cars, it became apparent the drivers needed to live up their title.
Another goal was to even the playing field and allow for more parity amongst the garage. When the checkered flag waved in California, there were new names like Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Daniel Hemric in the top-10 with nine of them coming from different organizations
During media sessions at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, several wheelmen weighed in on their thoughts about the Next Gen car, so far.
Jones led 18 laps in the No. 43 Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet en route to a third-place finish.
“The Next Gen car, I think, has been great to us so far two races in,” Jones said.” “Hopefully we can just continue it going this weekend. It’ll be a learning process, but you know the speed for sure has been there at Daytona, Fontana.
“We are in a good spot in points (sixth) right now and want to keep that going. Obviously with the merger with GMS, it really lets us kind of develop our own package right here. I came to RPM last season, that car was in a development freeze and it was what it was.
“With the Next Gen car, I think it’s opened up so many doors for us. Just having the same parts and pieces, we just have to figure out to take that wheel that they have given us and make it a little bit rounder and for us, Dave’s (Elenz, Crew Chief) done a good job with that and that’s been a focus of not just him, but everybody on the team.”
Suarez had his No. 99 Toyota in great position for victory at ACS last week. After running in the top-10 and top-5 for a large portion of the race, he was poised to make a run for the lead against eventual-race winner Kyle Larson.
However, he got shuffled back to fourth. For the second-year Trackhouse Racing team, it’s a very commendable finish adding merit to how the Next Gen car will bring parity back to the Cup Series.
“Without a doubt, Suarez said. “I think what NASCAR did with this Next Gen car is something that, in my opinion, we’re already seeing the results.
“We are going to look back in a few years from now, five years from now and we are going to be very, very thankful we did this thing called Next Gen car. It just brought opportunity for new players in the game.
“I don’t think that if it wasn’t for the Next Gen car, Trackhouse would be here. I don’t think 23XI would be here. I’m sure there’s more team owners that are maybe thinking about it now that there is a Next Gen car.”
Logano is a NASCAR Cup Champion and Daytona 500 winner. He’s had success in different generations of cars. With the Next Gen, the veteran is quickly adapting to – and welcoming – the new car.
“I thought it’s gone pretty smooth so far,” said the No. 22 Ford driver for Team Penske. “There’s going to be learning curves, I think that’s something we all expected. There’s going to be issues, we’re going to have to work through it as an industry because some of it just you don’t know what you don’t know until you get out there.
“There’s probably going to be more things that come up as we keep racing at different types of race tracks. We’re going keep finding out new things about the car that could be better. That’s just part of having a new car, an underdeveloped car because we’re just getting after it.
“We’re just starting to figure this thing out and we don’t have much time to figure things out while we have a whopping 30 minutes of practice. I think some of the obvious things that have been out in the news of things that can be better have been addressed, or trying to find ways to fix them.
“As long as we can keep doing those things, I think we’ll work the bugs out soon.”
Tires have been one of those bugs receiving a lot of attention. With no inner liner in the new Goodyears, when one goes flat it makes the car almost impossible to drive back to the pit road for repairs.
Logano said this wasn’t a big surprise to teams when it started to happen. But, did offer one possible solution HE would like to see take place.
“Yes, we saw it coming,” he said. “We saw it at tests when those cars have flat tires. What’s the solution? I don’t know.
“My solution is to make an AAA Truck that can go out there and change your tires for you, instead of towing the thing in and scraping the underbody off. That’s still my crutch fix, just go out there and at least put some kind of tire on, put a donut tire on so you can get back to pit road and have your pit crew put your set back on so you can go.
“We need to look for crutches, in my opinion, find something to at least get us by until we can come up with a reasonable fix that works for everybody.
“To me, that’s just how can we get the cars back without more damage and without losing time.”
The next test of team adaptability and driver skills takes place Sunday at 3:30 p.m. live from Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Fox TV, PRN and Sirius XM Radio.