Vehicle development in the NASCAR world is best described as ‘glacial’. The current Generation 6 cars were introduced way back in 2013, and under the skin, they still retain old-school features seen in the sport for decades including a four-speed H-pattern manual gearbox and a live rear axle.
In the 2022 season, though, we’re in for a huge change in NASCAR’s top-level Cup series. The Next Gen cars, now fully revealed for the first time, will be introduced to the sport two several years in development.
For a start, they’re symmetrical, eschewing the tradition of having the body mounted in a slightly skewed position. As for that bodywork, there’s now a smaller greenhouse and a shorter rear deck, changing the proportions significantly and helping the cars look a lot closer to their production counterparts. The panels used to be made from a mix of carbon fibre and stamped steel, but now they’re composite.
Replacing the live rear axle is a fully independent suspension setup, and back there, you’ll also find a transaxle five-speed (plus reverse) sequential gearbox made by Xtrac. Drivers will still need to take their hands off the wheel, as shifting will be done using a lever rather than paddle shifters.
The old recirculating ball steering has been replaced with a more modern rack and pinion setup, although during testing there have been some issues with how the new system copes with the high loads experienced on oval tracks. As before, the steering is power-assisted.
The wheels have grown from 15 inches to 18, accommodating wider, softer tyres from Goodyear with a much lower profile. Pit stops will be a little less frantic before since the five-lug rims are no more - the new wheels are centre-locking. Underneath them are larger brakes.
It’s still quite traditional in other areas, though. NASCAR decided not to adopt a carbon fibre platform, sticking with a tubular steel space frame. It does place the driver closer to the middle of the car, and the doors bars have been pushed out, keeping the pilot better protected.
The current 5.86-litre two vales per cylinder V8 has been kept, but it’s understood that some sort of hybrid powertrain will be adopted in the near future. The single exit exhaust has been ditched in favour of a new twin-exit design, with outwards-facing tailpipes just in front of the rear wheels on both sides of the car.
Even with the retention of some of the old-world stuff, the Next Gen cars arguably represent the biggest step-change NASCAR has seen in decades. As reported by Autosport, Toyota Racing president David Wilson said: “Year over year, this is the biggest change for the Nascar industry, in terms of the car that we race, that we have seen cumulatively for over 50 years.”
There are a number of reasons for NASCAR finally dragging itself into the present. For one thing, there needs to be much more road car relevance to keep the manufacturers interested - this is, after all, supposed to be ‘stock car’ racing. Improving safety is also a consideration, and so is cost reduction. The new cars use much more in the way of off-the-shelf parts, many of them shared with the vehicles of the Australia Supercars series.
NASCAR higher-ups will be hoping that the Next Gen cars tempt some younger fans to the sport while also keeping its devotees happy. It’ll be interesting to see how the new Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and Toyota Camry are received when they first race wheel-to-wheel at the Daytona 500 next February.