Fontana test of Next Gen car includes its first wreck

Nick DeGroot

William Byron completed a two-day test Tuesday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., of the newest prototype of the Next Generation car, which will debut in 2021 in the Cup Series.

Unfortunately, his more than 300 miles of testing runs included a run-in with the wall off Turn 2. The 2-mile track is the largest yet to be used during the new car’s testing process.

“We were probably six or seven laps into a 25-lap tire run. I had been a little free for a couple of corners, but nothing major. That time, I just got loose and figured I’d be able to save it but wasn’t able to,” Byron said of the incident.

“It just came all the way around. I had a number of similar moments in the race Sunday and was able to drive out of it. That’s what caught me off guard the most. It’s part of testing, though, learning where the line is with what the car can do.”

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John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation, the incident is just as valuable as the track data from running laps.

“This is exactly why we test. We were able to put almost 300 miles on the car the past two days and captured some valuable data. Because of the nature of a test, we have a lot more data available than during a normal race weekend, including the IDR (incident data recorder) and high-speed camera,” he said.

“We’ll take the car back to North Carolina and evaluate it. This gives us a good opportunity to make sure the car holds up as expected during an incident.”

Byron said the car was difficult to adjust at first, but by Tuesday was getting a good feel for it.

“The tire doesn’t have the same sidewall, so there is not the same amount of slip that you can hang the car out,” he said. “You just have to get used to that timing and rhythm of when the car does step out, how quickly can you catch it when it slides the front tires, how quickly does it come back.

“All those things are a lot different from what we do now. It takes some adjustment to learn that. The sequential shifting was really cool. I’ve done that before when I first started racing but haven’t had it since.

“I think it will be better for us on restarts to focus on moves and not have to worry so much about shifting. And on road courses, you’re going to be able to be a lot more aggressive in your downshifts. That’s going to be a lot of fun.”

From the crew chief's perspective

Byron’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, said there is a “major difference” on the types of adjustments crews will be able to make on the new car during races.

“What and when we can change things is going to be significantly different. What you would change at the track might change from what we’re doing now – you’re going to have different knobs to turn,” he said.

“The thing that’s exciting about it is it’s a brand-new entity, so we’re always going to be learning new things about it and finding out what matters the most. It’s still a race car, and we’re still going to be able to work on it.”