Thursday, 20 February 2020

Why So Much Rides On NASCAR’s Next Race Car – Forbes

Why So Much Rides On NASCAR’s Next Race Car – Forbes
15 Jan

Anyone who’d already bought a ticket to the NASCAR Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March all but hit the jackpot Monday: the ticket-bearer is also admitted to the test of NASCAR’s scheduled Cup car for 2021 at that racetrack this Wednesday and Thursday.

Those who don’t yet have tickets to the Cup race but want to see the so-called Next Gen car take its first laps around a 1½-mile track can get to watch the test at Homestead-Miami — but only if they buy tickets to the Cup race first. So, no Cup ticket, no test. No freebies this time.

Only select sections of the grandstand at Homestead-Miami will be open for the test, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, and the infield and garage won’t be open at all to the public or the nosy news media, though NASCAR hopes to open later tests to the media.

But at least a few fans (who have Cup tickets) will get to watch this test of the Next Gen car, to be driven this time by Erik Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing. When the test was announced last week, the plan was to keep the racetrack closed to the general public and the nosy news media, as in the last test.

Now the test is open to all (who have Cup tickets), although it is hard to imagine the racetrack being overrun with fans even if no Cup tickets were required to enter. For one thing, these tests are not terribly exciting, and the beach, golf courses and fishing boats are nearby.

But this procedure does drive home how big a deal the development of NASCAR’s next Cup car really is. Besides NASCAR’s vow to do something substantial to the 2021 Cup schedule to be released this April, the development of the Next Gen car for 2021 is its most important undertaking of 2020.

The 2020 Cup season, which opens Feb. 16 with its biggest race, the Daytona 500, will resemble the 2019 season, with similar competition and schedule. But NASCAR will truly embark on a new era in 2021, and the whole thing won’t work without tight, exciting racing.

The Next Gen car, which used to be called the Gen-7 car, is being designed to remain sleek and racy and safe, but it will look even more like street cars driven by regular people without draining race teams’ budgets. You wonder why they just don’t go back to “stock” cars.

Now that would be fun and interesting — take off the chrome and lights off a showroom model and allow the engines to be juiced up — but cars would be less durable and more dangerous. People enjoy a smoky wreck or two, but they don’t go to races to see drivers get hurt (or worse).

The Next Gen car has been tested twice so far, by Austin Dillon at Richmond in October and Joey Logano at Phoenix in December, without any apparent problems. Racing at higher speeds at a bigger track like Homestead-Miami is expected to provide a tougher test for the car.

The plan is to have the Next Gen cars made by Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet ready to deliver to teams by this July so they will have time to get them race-fit for 2021. Photos of the Next Gen car and reports from two tests have drawn generally enthusiastic responses.

NASCAR knows it needs to nail this one. The gigantic television contracts with Fox and NBC run out in 2024, and attendance and sponsorship have declined over the last decade, so there won’t be the same cash-flow gusher some day. The Next Gen car addresses those issues.

Remember the Car of Tomorrow? That was the boxy-looking race car developed by NASCAR in the mid-2000’s in response to a series of fatalities, most notably to the legendary Dale Earnhardt. The Gen-6 car, unveiled in 2013, was an aesthetic upgrade.

Drivers complained about the Gen-6 car, because that is what drivers do (and Denny Hamlin even was fined for it). But they now seem to understand that it was better than no car at all, which is what they’d get if there were no NASCAR. So the success of the Next Gen car will benefit everyone, NASCAR hopes.

And that is why these Next Gen tests have been somewhat secretive, though NASCAR says it plans to release photos of the car and quotes from Jones and series officials afterward. And it is why race fans have to buy a ticket for a Cup race in March to watch the Next Gen car in January.


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