The current NextGen car has been tested vigorously over the past few months. Teams and drivers have put these cars through the ringer, testing their durability on short tracks, their aero properties on superspeedways, and just about everything in between on the 1.5-mile ovals. Today, they get a different kind of test.
Today's race at Circuit of the Americas will be the first time these cars tackle a road course. This is not just any road course, either. The 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course has only held one Cup Series race, and that came in a downpour last year, a rain-shortened race. With so many moving variables, this race will impossible to predict.
A major piece of the design of this car was the fact that there would be more non-oval racing on the schedule. Some of the new features that will be on full display today include the independent rear suspension and increased braking capacity. These two key components should improve the racing, and ultimately provide a better show.
The cars here this weekend are not based on the same chassis that we have seen in the past, and instead will have different pieces bolted onto the same suspension uprights that teams have used on the ovals this season. The camber of the wheels is another important aspect of these cars. Camber is the angle of the wheel in relation to the car when viewed from the front.
With the utilization of different parts and pieces, the big takeaway is that a car configured for an oval can be converted for road-course events simply by bolting on new plates and brackets. This provides a new level of flexibility that teams didn't have in the past. How does this translate to the style of racing we will see this afternoon?
The improved durability of these cars was on display yesterday, when Ryan Blaney crashed in practice. His No. 12 Ford Mustang didn't seem to suffer any damage after making contact with the inside wall, and the Team Penske driver went on to earn pole position for the race. The fact that the cars are tougher may equate to more aggressive driving in the race.
Road course races are already filled with aggression, as drivers tend to take more than they give. With the potential for dive-bombing moves at every corner, this often leads to angry drivers and retaliation. With tougher bodies allowing for more contact, there could be more issues on the race track and more hurt feelings after the checkered flag.
This car also seems to have brought parity into the equation, and many drivers are thankful for that. Daniel Suarez is one driver that has taken advantage this season. "I think what NASCAR did with this NextGen car is something that in my opinion we’re already seeing the results,” said Suarez. “We are going to look back in a few years from now, five years from now, and we’re going to be all very, very thankful we did this thing called Next Gen car because it just brought opportunity for new players in the game."
"It gives me a lot of confidence, especially since we talk about the Next Gen car being an equalizer," said Todd Gilliland. "Everyone has only been (to COTA) one time and I didn’t realize talking to my teammate Michael McDowell that they only ran like one lap in the dry all weekend, which was for qualifying. We were able to practice in the dry the day before and I feel like I have more laps in the dry than anyone here, so I’m just really looking forward to it. It’s a beautiful race track. I love road course racing in general. It’s a lot of fun."
To that tend, more drivers are interested in getting in the game now. Joey Hand will make his second Cup Series start today, driving the No. 15 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing. Hand was one of the drivers on Chip Ganassi's winning team in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2011 and won the LMGTE Pro Class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016.
"It’s definitely going to bridge that gap between the difference in driving,” Hand said. “When I hopped in the Gen 6 car, it was very different having that 15-inch tire, kind of a balloon-ish tire, where you have to be real careful with it, it could chatter really easy. The independent suspension, the sequential gearbox, it all drives a lot more like a GT car would."
Hand isn't the only new guy in town this weekend. Andy Lally and Boris Said will be starting at the rear of the field today. The one non-full-time driver to watch this afternoon though, is AJ Allmendinger. The Kaulig Racing driver is aiming for a weekend sweep after winning the Xfinity Series race yesterday.