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Will NASCAR's Next Gen Car Development Avoid Mistakes Made With CoT?

 

Photo Credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images


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On Wednesday of this week (May 5th of 2021), NASCAR will formally present the sport’s newest Cup Series chariot. Originally called the Gen 7 car before adopting the moniker of the Next Gen car, the vehicle was initially planned to be part of the 2021 racing season but was pushed to 2022 due to the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 disrupting development as well as team finances to implement the Next Gen car. From the details already leaked about the Next Gen car, the 2022 Cup season is destined to deliver the biggest learning curve ever to drivers, team and fans. Ahead of the official unveiling of the car, indications of a new spec chassis, six-speed manual transmission, independent rear suspension as well as a larger diameter, single-lug wheels are radically going to reshape the operations of NASCAR Cup Series teams on and off the track.


With anticipation building towards the planned on-track introduction of the Next Gen car at the 2022 Daytona 500, memories of another major design rethink should have NASCAR nervous about how they are developing the machine imperative to a thrilling on-track product for the future of stock car racing. The “Car of Tomorrow” (or commonly known as its acronym CoT) or Gen 5 race car was created through the mid-2000s and first debuted on the short track of Bristol Motor Speedway for the 2007 Food City 500. This iteration of the NASCAR Cup Series race vehicle arrived as a polarizing figure in the sport that solved some problems while creating new several problems with some taking years to be fully resolved. I watched the first race with the CoT in which Kyle Busch won driving the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. In that opening race for that car, Busch proclaimed he wasn’t a fan of it and concluded that it “sucks”.


As NASCAR was developing the Next Gen car, I maintained a sense of worry as many ambitious changes were being prepared for the 2022 Cup Series season. This concern existed as I saw online images of recent Goodyear tire test at Darlington Raceway involving Tyler Reddick on Twitter. Seeing another single car presence for the Next Gen car, I expressed a desire to see the development of the new vehicle specifications be tested in more race-simulated conditions multiple cars on track at once. Believing it could better acclimate drivers and teams to what might be vastly differing competition conditions for the 2022 season prior to the Daytona 500. I thought that the possibility of running some short, exhibition-style events in the late part of the year could provide a valuable field test for the Next Gen car. I would have personally like to see is about 6-8 non-playoff drivers in a few of the final 10 races running about 20 laps with Next Gen cars earlier in the race weekend. The exhibition runs would include a pit stop using what is slated to be a much different tire changing and refueling procedure.



Unlike most of the time when I post something on Twitter, I actually received responses. In retrospect, I misspoke by attempting to argue my point by questioning the merits of single car test sessions. My responses were reflective of what was meant to be a rhetorical question.


Later on, I made an effort to clarify my comment on NASCAR promoting more multiple car, race-simulating tests personally aware at the time of single vehicle tests with the Next Gen car with drivers Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. Someone replying to this tweet made me aware of a Charlotte Roval test that occurred in November last year where two Next Gen cars were on track at the same time. A fact that I was unaware of, the presence of two of these new stockcars on the time at the same time was not what I had in mind when suggesting NASCAR should insist on more testing with multiple vehicles. My comments were made in reflection of CoT and not wanting to see several seasons of competition with the Next Gen car where drivers, teams and fans will be uncertain of the racing.



The CoT vehicle was one of the most ambitious efforts by NASCAR to enforce a full-scale evolution for the sport. Prior to the Gen 5 car, the evolution of the NASCAR stock car was a more subtle undertaking reacting to safety, the growing sport as well as a changing auto industry. However, with expectations lofty for the CoT, there were several instances where the race car disappointed in the following categories:


Safety


The CoT NASCAR Cup Series vehicle sought to be a step forward for safety as well as competition. Promoting better driver safety motivated by the deaths of Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and truck series competitor Tony Roper during the 2000 and 2001 racing seasons, a larger roll cage structure, repositioned driver’s seat and the integration of impact absorbing foam were incorporated into the CoT’s design.


Although there was the widely reported incident where the impact-absorbing foam caught fire on the #29 Chevrolet that was driven by Kevin Harvick at the 2007 spring Martinsville race, another more serious fault in the CoT was found with NASCAR’s experiment replacing familiar rear spoiler with a wing. Although the rear wing was strongly disliked by fans for appearing aesthetically challenged on an NASCAR stock car, it was also attributed to increasing the chances of vehicles flipping and going airborne. A SAE Technical Paper study into the use of the rear wing on the CoT car could increase the potential of flipping under certain conditions compared to the older spoiler. NASCAR reintroduced the traditional spoiler to the Cup Series starting in the early part of the 2010 season.

 


Cost-Savings


Through the use of common components and NASCAR minimizing the level of modifications teams were able to perform to the CoT car, there was the potential for making the sport somewhat more affordable. However, large teams still found incentive of producing new vehicles working within the confines of the rulebook. Also, with several NASCAR-mandated modifications to the front and rear of the CoT body in 2010 and 2011 would have come at an expense.


Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR




When NASCAR introduced the Gen 6 model in 2013 that borrowed heavily from the CoT, some of the savings achieved by the previous generation race car were erased due to new body rules and suspension components.

  


Competition

 

Several initial NASCAR Cup Series events with the CoT cars were roundly criticized for creating terrible racing. Kyle Busch’s condemnation of the new vehicle in victory lane in its debut was an initial embarrassment when the sanctioning body was actually attempting to improve competition with the fifth generation design.


  

Two early races that defamed the CoT were the 2007 UAW-Ford 500 Talladega Superspeedway event and the 2008 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Though the first superspeedway event with NASCAR’s CoT was predictably going to be the dull, single-file race many expected, the 400-mile event at the iconic Indiana-based oval was nightmare. The mismatch of the tires with the new car during the 2008 Brickyard 400 led to multiple tire failures after a short distance. Of the 11 cautions in the event, 6 were competition cautions being called after roughly 10 laps of green flag racing.



While the CoT was implemented into the Cup Series after roughly a year and a half of on-track development, the number of faults with the updated race machine would only become apparent after in the completion of the first set of races using the vehicle in 2007. It is the reasons I mentioned that want to believe NASCAR will do everything possible to ensure the Next Gen car will be fully evaluated ahead of the Daytona 500 next year.


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