Several NASCAR teams headed to the Charlotte Roval on October 11-12 to test out the Next Gen Cup Series cars. They took several laps around the road course while FOX Sports analyst Larry McReynolds helped provide coverage for the final day. America’s Crew Chief headed away from the track fired up and ready to head to Los Angeles for the February 6 Clash.
McReynolds sat down with Heavy after working on the NASCAR.com show and expressed excitement about the future of the sport. He pointed out that there have been several Next Gen tests since Austin Dillon headed to Richmond in 2019 and that multiple drivers have wheeled the cars around Daytona, Charlotte, Darlington, and Martinsville. However, the two-day session at the Charlotte Roval was the largest to date, and it created a completely different environment.
“We had 21 teams out there. And it almost felt like for the first time with the Next Gen car, it was more about a test,” McReynolds said. “It was competitive. You’d see a car make a lap and the crew chief and engineer would run to the scoring monitor on top of the hauler and look to see how fast they ran. It just had a competitive feel to it.”
McReynolds continued and explained that there are several reasons why he remains excited about the Next Gen cars apart from watching teams compete during practice sessions. The new body styles are chief among them, but he also specifically mentioned the “throaty” sound that he compared to muscle cars.
“I know the ultimate measuring stick will be when we get to racing in 2022, but you’ve got to be excited, pumped up about what you see, what you hear, what you feel. There’s just… I just don’t feel any negativity whatsoever around it right.”
McReynolds Has Spent Years Preparing for Next Gen Analysis
As a key figure of the FOX Sports broadcast, McReynolds provides a considerable amount of insight during Cup Series races. He explains to Mike Joy, Clint Bowyer, and Jeff Gordon — before his departure to Hendrick Motorsports — how certain factors come into play during the race. McReynolds discusses aerodynamics, fuel windows, tire rub, and several other topics while leaning on his nearly two decades worth of experience as a crew chief.
An important tool in his repertoire is the digital representation of the Gen 6 stock car. McReynolds spent countless hours with the FOX Sports graphics department creating this virtual car, and he has continued this trend while preparing for the upcoming Next Gen release. Though the process has been even more in-depth for America’s Crew Chief.
“They say ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ This is not gonna be done in a day,” McReynolds told Heavy. “It’s pretty extensive because just like the race teams starting with a clean sheet of paper, we’re doing the same thing. And then unlike the race teams, we’re dealing with all three bodies we’re trying to replicate.
“This has been quite the undertaking, and a pretty vertical mountain is getting the full-body scan from the Toyota group, from the Chevrolet group, and from the Ford group. So we are building our own virtual car below the body but then we’re actually working very feverishly between LA and Charlotte with replicating and making sure we do the three manufacturers the right job in replicating the three bodies.”
The Next Gen Cars Should Be More Durable
As Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott have shown at both Bristol Motor Speedway and the Charlotte Roval, the current Cup Series cars are not the most durable. Hitting the wall with the side of the stock car or bumping fenders can cut a tire, cause considerable damage, and send the driver to the garage earlier than expected. The Next Gen cars should react differently now that NASCAR is moving away from a steel body. Though drivers should still avoid hard hits while fighting for position.
McReynolds explained that the Next Gen bodies will be a composite material, similar to those running in the Xfinity Series. This style is more durable, to the point that drivers can graze the wall and continue racing. In the Cup Series, grazing the wall likely means a trip to pit road for new tires.
“Now, if you get hit in the right rear, if you hit the wall with the right rear, it’ll almost trickle all the way through the body because it’s all tied together, welded together,” McReynolds said. “I’ve seen some teams in the Xfinity Series in practice hit the wall with the right rear. And [they] just changed the quarter panel and the tailpiece at the racetrack and just go down the road.”
McReynolds Explained Why Cars Handled Better on Road Courses
One of the big takeaways from the two-day Next Gen test was that drivers called the new stock cars “fun” to drive before the steering issues surfaced. Tyler Reddick, Corey LaJoie, and Alex Bowman among others made positive comments while Ryan Blaney explained that the improved handling prevented wheel hop on the road courses.
McReynolds provided more insight into the improved handling. He explained that the bodies are more symmetrical instead of favoring one direction while the new steering system is more responsive as the drivers fight through the corners.
“Our current car, it’s kind of designed more to turn left than it is right,” McReynolds said. “So this car being symmetrical, you know, it should be just as good one direction it is it is the other. I heard some comments today about how [the drivers] feel like the independent rear suspension gives it more grip in the transition from the left to the right. Because it’s really kind of the same package in the rear as you now have in the front, which is an independent rear suspension tied together by a sway bar or anti-roll bar.”
The Verdict Remains Out About Parity in Stock Car Racing
LaJoie made a comment on social media about the future of NASCAR, tweeting on October 11 that the new cars will give small teams a “much bigger chance” to be competitive during races. There is a possibility that JTG Daugherty, Spire Motorsports, GMS Racing, and other teams will fight for wins on a more consistent basis against Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, or Joe Gibbs Racing. However, McReynolds explained that there may still be a gap.
“I’ve been here for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of rule changes,” McReynolds said. “I’ve seen a lot of car changes. And every time we think it’s going to absolutely 100% level the playing field, the cream still rises to the top. You know, the rich are still gonna be rich, and the poor are still going to be searching to get rich. I think it’s going to close the gap, maybe especially in the beginning.”
McReynolds added that the pit crews could help decrease the gap between the massive, wealthy teams and those with only one or two drivers on the roster. A good stop could help the teams gain ground at critical times. Though he still sees a scenario in which the big three teams continue to battle for the championship after overcoming the early learning curves.