For skeptics of NASCARâs current direction, Austin Dillon is here to deliver good news about the Cup Seriesâ next-generation race car.
“It drives like a race car should.”
The 2019 rules package, extended through 2020, has proven to be a polarizing topic throughout the season. The high downforce, low horsepower formula has been compared to driving a shifter kart, crate engine racing or at worst, “this isnât racing.”
Drivers currently race nearly full-throttle on the largest downforce tracks on the schedule, only lifting when they run into the turbulence generated by the new 8-inch spoilers. The formula, while making for the occasionally more entertaining intermediate track race, has undeniably ruined shorter tracks and road courses due to the inability to overcome that same dirty air.
This package has long been considered a bridge to the next-generation race car since it will include high downforce and, eventually, a new engine formula that tops-out at around 550 hp.
Dillon tested a baseline prototype of the new car last week at Richmond Raceway. The machine was developed by NASCAR with assistance from Richard Childress Racing. That team has often been utilized as an R&D partner due to its historical significance and its large campus in Welcome, North Carolina.
Dillon tested the car for two days at the Virginia short track and came away impressed with what it could become before its debut during Daytona Speedweeks in 2021.
“I felt like they did a really good job designing the car,” Dillon told Autoweek over the weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. “For me, it felt like a race car. It had tire falloff, it wasn’t easy to drive by no means and it was adjustable.
“We constantly had to work on the way I was driving because I’m so used to driving these other cars, but with the way the rear end is, it challenged me.”
The next-generation car will also feature an 18-inch, lower-profile tire instead of the current traditional 15-inch version. In theory, a wider and lower profile tire could provide more mechanical grip to offset the aerodynamic grip that dominates the current package.
Dillon said he saw exactly what he wanted to see on that front.
“Thatâs all I talked about last week, mechanical grip,” Dillon said of the test. “The aero balance was a lot less than what we have now. The tire was 2Â inches wider in the back, so it had good forward drive, but with the sidewall being softer, I lost grip when it got loose. It just felt a lot different than what we have today.
“The wear was good, and I think Goodyear liked what they saw from a temperature standpoint, and thatâs going to let them go even softer once we start to race with it.”
One of the most interesting additions to the car was a rear-diffuser, like a sports car, on the back bumper. The hope is that the diffuser will serve as a disruption to the turbulence that has challenged the racing at times this season.
“Other series have made it work really good,” Dillon said. “Itâs hard to say how thatâs going to work since we tested at a short track. We adjusted it and dropped it in the back, and I was surprised because I thought it was going to add a ton of downforce and that wasnât the case.
“I didnât feel a whole lot. Weâll have to see what it does in traffic because thatâs what it was designed for.”
The most popular request from drivers polled over the weekend at Talladega is a hope that NASCAR will build a degree of adjustability into the car that will allow for lower downforce at short tracks and road courses.
Denny Hamlin has been a proponent of that idea for several years.
“I told NASCAR a long time ago that I would like to see an adjustable rear end package, from the windshield on back that can be changed out for short tracks, intermediates and superspeedways,” Hamlin said. “I really do believe that this package has been better for the intermediate race tracks.
“It has taken its toll on Martinsville, Richmond, Dover and the road courses. It is very, very tough to pass there. I canât say this enough. You donât need a drafting spoiler for a short track or a road course because we donât draft. All that does is hurt the second-place cars on back.”
NASCAR wanted to do something similar to Hamlinâs suggestion for 2019 and 2020, retaining low downforce for short tracks and road courses, but the teams pushed-back, not wanting to research and develop two completely different formulas.
Hamlin says this shouldnât be a problem with the new car since NASCAR will begin enforcing wind tunnel limits next season.
Matt DiBendetto has spent parts of this season criticizing the lack of off-throttle time at the highest level of the discipline — pining for the days he drove with both feet.
Without having heard Hamlinâs proposal, he echoed the idea on Friday when asked about his thoughts on the new car.
“Iâve heard it could have interchangeable parts between the short tracks and intermediates because they are different,” DiBenedetto said. “Because they are different. Iâm sure they are working towards that. I hope they are.”
Dillonâs younger brother, Ty, also races in the Cup Series for Germain Racing. Ty said heâs excited to get behind the wheel himself after briefing with his brother about the topic.
“All he told me is that it stops really good, it turns really good, it feels lighter and faster,” Ty Dillon said. “Just some different little things and some new unique aspects that I didnât even know were things on the car they are working on trying. Itâs all still in a development stage of a car, but it sounds exciting. I think itâs going to be a lot of good things for the sportâŠ
“I think the car reacts more to driver input and driver abilityâŠ It gives the driver more opportunity to show what he can showcase. Thatâs exciting for all of us.”