CONCORD, N.C. — A pair of NASCAR Cup Series champions — Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — got their first taste of NASCAR’s future during a test session Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Truex and Busch were on hand to test the Next Gen race car at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. The car is scheduled to make its competition debut in 2022. One car was built by Richard Childress Racing and prepared by NASCAR and RCR officials and the second was built and prepared by Action Express Racing, which competes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Busch, who drove the car prepared by RCR and NASCAR, was pleased with his first laps in the Next Gen race car.
“Today has been a fun, exciting, interesting day. It feels like the first day at school because of how different the car is,” said Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion. “With the sequential gearbox, that’s the most fun. I love shifting through the gears. Sequentially you’ve got to go second, third, fourth, fifth and then you’ve got to go backward, fourth, third, second.
“It’s not your typical H pattern that we’ve had, so this gearbox is fun to drive. The brakes are much bigger and the car can stop a lot quicker,” Busch continued. “Overall the car’s first impression is fun, it’s exciting and different.”
The Next Gen race car features a number of components that are different from what the current stock cars utilize at NASCAR’s top level. As Busch eluded to, the car features a sequential six-speed gearbox instead of the traditional four-speed gearbox.
“I do have to keep reminding myself I have it (the sequential gearbox). One downshift when I’m supposed to upshift could end the test here,” Truex joked. “I’ve literally driven an H pattern since I was a kid, so I keep having to remind myself to make sure I pull the right direction. That’s been fun and I haven’t screwed that up yet. Hopefully, I don’t, knock on wood.”
The car also features an independent rear suspension as well as wider tires, with the cars utilizing 18-inch tires versus the 15-inch tires currently used in the Cup Series.
The focus on Monday was not to test how the cars would race against each other. Instead, Truex and Busch tested different setups and tires in an effort to work out kinks in the car and learn more about what the car needs to be race-ready in advance of its competition debut in 2022.
“The focus is to go through tires for Goodyear and finding the best combination. There is a Watkins Glen tire here, there is a Mid-Ohio tire and there is also a Sonoma tire that we need to run,” Busch said. “I think we’re just trying to log laps on components for road course stuff.”
Neither driver was given lap times, but they were told the times were comparable to the lap times turned during the Bank of America ROVAL 400 on Oct. 11.
The only issue brought up by either Truex or Busch was with the steering in the car, which Truex said came on the oval portion of the track.
“If the car bottoms out at all the steering really kind of goes haywire,” Truex explained. “We’re working through that. Otherwise, it all feels good.”
Truex admitted he wasn’t sure what to expect from the independent rear suspension, but he was pleasantly surprised to find the car reacts and feels a lot like the current cars.
“The independent rear suspension was something I was really not sure what to expect from,” Truex said. “I’ve never driven anything with a straight rear end in it. That was a big question mark. Honestly, it really doesn’t feel any different.
“We did make a few changes on one of the runs and I was like, ‘Whoa, this thing is out of control. Don’t do that again.’”
Despite the car feeling similar to what he typically drives, Truex acknowledged there will be a learning curve for teams and drivers in 2022.
“There is definitely going to be a huge learning curve,” Truex said. “There are so many differences about the way these cars are built from our style of racing or racing stock cars in general going all the way back to modifieds for me. There are so many differences about this. It’s going to be a huge learning curve for everyone.”
Busch said the car feels, in a lot of ways, like what he envisioned the next generation of stock car racing should feel like. On top of that, he said the car sounds fantastic thanks to the split exhaust pipes that come out each side of the car.
“It even sounds throatier and deeper. The sound was very cool,” Busch said. “I don’t get to hear cars a lot because I’m in the car racing, but to hear Truex go around and to hear the split exhaust with one pipe out the left and one pipe out the right, that’s an old school Trans-Am style thundering power feel.”
Following Monday’s test, both cars will return to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Wednesday for a test on the 1.5-mile oval. Busch and Truex will return to take part in that test session as well. Truex believes that will be the true test of the car.
“This is a road course. I think Wednesday is going to be the real test to see what I think of it and see how it feels on a fast oval,” Truex said. “I think that’s going to be a real eye opener.”