While some fans may have concerns about how the Next Gen car will look or handle, there could be an even bigger issue regarding the new NASCAR Cup Series machine looming on the horizon. And that possible worry is that the sport’s teams may not have a deep enough inventory of the cars they will use during the 2022 season should they experience catastrophic disasters, especially during the early races on the schedule. It’s enough of a worry that some drivers addressed the situation during a recent NASCAR Media availability held during the test session last week at the Daytona International Speedway.
The Next Gen cars are not built from the ground up by the individual teams as has been the way of things throughout the sport’s history. Instead, the chassis are manufactured by an outsourced producer who then sends those “skeletons” to the teams for final assembly. Michigan-based Technique, Inc., which has facilities in Jackson, Michigan and Concord, North Carolina, is the company charged with supplying the internal structures of the Cup Series cars. And while production has been ongoing, most teams don’t have as many cars on hand as they would like.
When asked how many cars were parked inside the Team Penske shop, 2018 Cup Series champion Joey Logano explained the current situation.
“Not many,” The driver of the No. 22 Ford Mustang replied with a laugh. “We’re all in the same boat because all the chassis are allocated through the car number so everyone should be within the same one to two cars as they come in. I know we just had a couple of chassis to come in last week. They’re not assembled yet and I don’t even know what car numbers they’re assigned to.”
The winner of 27 Cup Series races says that unlike in previous seasons, teams won’t have the luxury of simply pulling one of numerous cars out of a stockpile and earmarking it for a race that may be weeks ahead on the schedule. At least that will be true until the inventory is built up to higher levels.
For that reason, the Connecticut native was somewhat caught off guard by the hard driving during the drafting portion of the Daytona test session.
“But yeah, you’re going to have to rotate these cars pretty quickly,” Logano pointed out. “The car we’re testing today is going to the Clash, that’s the position we’re in, and I believe that car is also going to Fontana. That’s the position we’re all in. It’s tight, don’t crash. That’s why I was so surprised at how hard we were racing yesterday. I was like, ‘If we wreck these things, we’re in a bit of trouble.'”
William Byron drives for powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports. The 10th place finisher in the final Cup Series standings last season doesn’t seem as concerned about the number of cars on hand as others might be. The Charlotte native who has two wins at NASCAR’s highest level to his credit says the No. 24 operation is making progress toward supplying him with all the Chevrolet Camaros he will need for the upcoming campaign.
“I know we have four right now,” Byron stated. “When I go to the shop I see a few more center sections that don’t have any front or rear clips on them. I think progress has definitely been made, and by the time we get back here, I think it will be a different story. When I left for Christmas break after the Charlotte test, they’ve come a pretty good way from that and I think it will only continue to get better.”
Unlike Logano and Byron, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. does not drive for one of the powerful multi-car operations that tend to dominate in NASCAR. His JTG-Daugherty Racing team will operate as a one-car squad in 2022. But the Olive Branch, Mississippi driver doesn’t necessarily see that as a disadvantage.
“I think for us, we’ve got two-and-a-half cars right now,” Stenhouse began. “I think we’re supposed to be getting our third complete one soon. As a single car, I feel like some of the bigger teams might run into more of an issue trying to fulfill all of the team’s cars. My guys feel really confident in what we’re doing and the schedule that we have laid out and the schedule NASCAR has given them on a timeline of when they think they’re going to get everything.”
The winner of Cup races at Daytona and Talladega back in 2017 when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing lauded the efforts of his current team in regard to getting their Next Gen cars ready.
“My guys had to work a lot of hours this week trying to get this car ready, this is a newer car,” Stenhouse explained. “It’s our second car and we haven’t ran it on the track yet until yesterday. They put a lot of hours in to make sure they got it ready to come down here. We’re just trying to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s on a brand new car. It’s so differently put together but I feel really confident of where we’re at and how we’re organized to start the season.”
With all that said, if there aren’t quite as many cars on hand as the teams have grown accustomed to having, will it impact the style of racing fans will see in the season-opening Daytona 500 on February 20th and beyond?
To a man, the drivers insisted that it will not.
“I don’t think it’s healthy for a driver to think ‘I don’t have another car to race’,” Logano declared. “I know sometimes you have to think that way but it’s going to affect your performance. I just assume that my backup car is just as good as my primary car all the time. I have to run with all I’ve got. At this level, with this talent that’s out there and with these teams that are out there, you can’t get by running 95% anymore. You’ve just got to get after it every lap. You can’t go out there and race scared.”
Byron agrees with Logano that drivers can’t be worried about inventory at the shop as they compete on the track.
“It’s a good story and it’s a good thing to talk about at the shop but once I get in the race car it’s not in my mind,” Byron insisted. “I don’t think I’ve ever raced with that kind of thought process. I don’t think you’d be aggressive enough to do what you need to do. It’s definitely on the forefront of the minds of the team owners, crew chiefs, and things like that, but for me, I go out there to try to go as fast as I can.”
Stenhouse says his team has also discussed the matter of inventory and that, for them, it’s more about running well than about counting cars.
“I’ve thought about that and I’ve talked to our team about that and they’re all in,” Stenhouse proclaimed. “They’re like, ‘We’ll build what we have to and we’ll work as hard as we need to but we’re going to go out and try to win races and run up front’. They’ve given me the confidence that we’ll be able to race as hard as we need to each and every week. For me, that’s the green light I need to make sure that I go out and do my job.”
One of the reasons NASCAR wanted to bring in the Next Gen car was to reduce costs for the teams and to create a more competitive racing environment. Although there may be challenges initially, the drivers quoted above seem to be optimistic that both of those things will happen.
“We all have the same cars now,” Logano asserted when asked about the competitive nature of the new car. “We all buy the same parts from the same places. So how do you create any difference or any advantage for somebody that’s better than the other?”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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