Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories about NASCAR’s Next Gen race cars and how teams are preparing for the introduction of the newest evolution of NASCAR stock cars.
Forgive Brian Pattie if he seems pre-occupied.
Three weekends remain in the NASCAR Cup Series season and the crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 47 Chevrolet at JTG Daugherty Racing is spinning a lot of plates.
First, the No. 47 team is trying to finish in the top 20 in points. They currently sit 22nd.
That’s while JTG Daugherty Racing winds down operations on its second car, the No. 37 driven by Ryan Preece.
Then there’s the carbon fiber elephant in the shop: the Next Gen car.
Twice in the last two months, Pattie has been part of tests of the Cup Series’ much trumpeted savior, in early September at Daytona Int’l Speedway and the Oct. 11-12 test on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
“It’s not fun,” Pattie told SPEED SPORT of the workload. “Obviously, it’s a lot of hours with a lot of drain on your brain.”
Retracting to one team with so much else going on and with so much depending on the success of the car is “a disappointment,” said Pattie.
“It’s always nice to have a teammate indoors you can bounce ideas off of and or if you go to two different directions so you can obviously develop twice as fast right, in theory,” Pattie said. “So we won’t have that. So that’s difficult to swallow.”
Pattie has been Stenhouse’s crew chief for five years and a Cup crew chief since 1999. The transfer over to the Next Gen car is the “biggest change” he’s witnessed since he graduated from high school in 1993 and moved to Charlotte to start his career.
“It’s gonna be a busy winter, probably one of the busiest ones we’ve seen in a long time,” Pattie said. “Redoing all the equipment like we always do, trying to design it to correspond with what the new car has…throw in test dates. One or two a month? Yeah, it’s gonna be quite busy.”
Pattie still isn’t sure what the shop workflow will be with the new car.
This is what it’s like with the current car.
“We have a five-day window to put a body on,” Pattie said. “Goes to finish fab for two days. Goes to the paint body for two days. Comes out for assembly for three. We know all that, right?”
But the new car?
Pattie said “realistically” a team won’t “have all those departments.”
“It’s more probably stationed on a surface plate, and you build the whole car right on the service plate,” Pattie said. “From start to finish you put the main roll cage structure down, put it on blocks and build away and then probably, I foresee, I don’t know for sure, but I proceed to the next plate to your right, we’ll have (car) No. 2. Next plate to that will have No. 3 and this will be weekly.”
To put it in perspective, after the test at Daytona, the team brought its car back to the shop. They moved suspension points around and changed geometry on the car and sent it back out for the ROVAL test.
Reduced workflow obviously means reduced workforce.
JTG Daugherty Racing currently operates with approximately 100 people. With the introduction of the Next Gen car and the retraction to one team, co-owner Brad Daugherty told SPEED SPORT he expects the number of team members to be reduced to between 60 and 70.
“We decided to go to a one-car operation just because we’re stretching ourselves thin running two cars,” Daugherty said. “ (With the Next Gen car) we don’t need as much. …
“I think it’s gonna be better for us. Some people think it’s a bad move if you don’t have two cars for data, but we just haven’t seen it that way. We’ve not been fortunate enough to have a manufacturer (support) opportunity. And 25 years I’ve been racing. Next year we’re going to get a little bit of help Chevrolet.”
That Chevrolet help will include simulator time, which JTG Daugherty hasn’t had up to this point.
“We’re true racers,” Daugherty said. “We build our race cars as good as any race car in that garage area, but we’ve kind of been boxed out of having the chance to get the data that the big teams get because we don’t buy things from them. … But hopefully, this will change some of that for some of the smaller teams instead of having to have this business relationship inside your own sport, which is weird anyway.
“Maybe we can work directly with the manufacturer and they’ll give us some help and we can go race and be as independent as we want to be or as close to as independent we can be.”
The goal of the Next Gen car is that it will make the Cup Series cheaper to compete in and result in smaller teams like JTG Daugherty Racing having the opportunity to be more competitive.
Daugherty believes that in reality, the latter argument is “a little bit overstated.”
“At the end of the day, Joe Gibbs, Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, those guys, it’ll be an arms race for those folks trying to figure out how to make these race cars work to their advantage,” Daugherty said. “They’ll have unlimited resources to do so. Early on I think you’ll see teams like mine and a couple of other teams have a chance to run well. … You know you’re racing against teams that have 600 employees … So they have every advantage, whether it be on the race track, off the race track. … Maybe we can save money with these race cars. I’m just looking at it from a business standpoint.
“Because the competition, you can sell it anyway you want. But the reality is at the end of the day, you’re gonna have to outrun those four big cornerstone team. That’s gonna be hard to do. But we’ll show up and give it a shot.”