Jones served as the driver during a two-day test at Homestead-Miami Speedway this week with NASCARâs new car design, which will debut in the Cup Series in the 2021 season.
While the test car still has a manufacturer-generic overall design, several features continue to stand out, including the far more stock-looking wheels and wheel well, body side molding and character lines, hood design and air exhaust vents built into the rear bumper.
The on-track was the third for the car but first on an intermediate track, on which much of the seriesâ competition is conducted.
âRichmond seemed to be more of a systems check than anything. Phoenix was more developed and working getting the car better and better and improving things,â Jones said.Â
âWe started here with sort of a baseline systems check for a mile-and-a-half track to get a good base of what theyâre going to work on over the next few months, and what direction to go.â
And Jones noticed differences from the current car almost right away.
âItâs definitely a big aero change. We have a lot of sideforce in our cars now and there is a lot to lean on â when you get loose the car kind of corrects itself and straightens itself out. This car doesnât really have any of that,â he said.Â
âThe quarter panels are so short and thereâs no offset in the car â itâs very symmetrical â so thereâs not a lot to lean on in this car. I think a lot of the aero changes theyâve done are going to help as far as racing goes, especially racing in a pack. Other than that, as we were working on things, some driving characteristics are similar.Â
âI think there is definitely more grip to be had as far as what the car is capable of. I think as far as development goes, there is going to be a lot more mechanical grip available than what we currently have.â
Jonesâ biggest challenge may have been adjusting to a sequential shifter, which is used in the car.
âThe shifting has been fun, itâs been different. Iâve never done anything other than normal H-pattern shifting in my career,â he said. âYou can bang right through the gears; we did a restart at the end of the day yesterday and it was fun learning about that and how you can push that gear box.Â
âThat really gets you excited for the road courses and what itâs going to be capable of there.â
John Probst, NASCARâs senior vice president of racing innovation, said the current car will test again at Auto Club Speedway in California following the race weekend there in March.
âThere are some logistical reasons that make sense for us to stay and test. But itâs also important to get some ârubbered-inâ (track) conditions of what itâs like in a race. We want to replicate that as best as we can so when we go back to race, there are no new lessons to learn,â he said.
âWe still look forward to taking this to superspeedways and road courses, we have a lot to learn there as well. Weâll go back and iterate on what we have now, but we feel like weâre in a good spot. Weâre going to keep developing and working on what weâve got, and we think weâre going to end up with a really good product.â
Probst said the NASCAR team has already started manufacturing the Phase 3 prototype version of the Next Gen car.
âIt will take all of the lessons learned from the tests weâve previously had. Once that is built, weâll probably start using this car as a âsecond carâ to start simulating cars in traffic to see what we can learn from that,â he said.