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Sports

NASCAR tests new car at Charlotte Motor Speedway

NextGen
Bob Leverone/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 11: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 Next Gen car drives during the NASCAR Cup Series test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 11, 2021 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Bob Leverone/Getty Images)

NASCAR teams are back at Charlotte Motor Speedway Friday testing the sport’s new race car. The so-called NextGen car is more than just a loud machine that goes fast and turns left.

It’s both a throwback and a futuristic model for where the 73-year-old sport is headed. NextGen is a near-total makeover, bringing things like independent rear suspension and bigger aluminum wheels into a sport moving more toward what auto manufacturers sell in showrooms. Kurt Busch, 2014 champion, drives for Mooresville-based 23XI Racing

“This is the single biggest off season change, ever.  It’s like an alt, control, delete. Just a whole new canvas, whiteboard, everything with the car, the build, race strategy, tires, transmission, brakes, heating, cooling – everything. It’s wide open.”

Busch and Bubba Wallace are teammates starting next year and a current driver for another team - Denny Hamlin - owns 23XI with basketball hall of famer and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan. They’re among more than a half-dozen new owners in the top tier Cup Series who believe NextGen will make owning a charter – like franchises in other sports – a better investment

“We love the sport, I mean, I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love it,” Hamlin said. ”I gripe about it a lot but I do love it. Michael loves it and I’m just trying to make it viable in the long term. That’s it. That’s all the arguments I make is that, how can we do this. If we lose one sponsor we don’t need it to be are we gonna close down or not. We want to be stable.”

With all the changes, teams are scrambling to learn how much the new car will cost during the changeover and how it will race. Doug Yates is the son of NASCAR hall of famer Robert Yates and CEO of Roush Yates Engines. His company builds motors for NASCAR’s Ford teams. He says a seemingly simple change to exhaust pipes can be a challenge.

“So now the exhaust comes out of both sides of the car and we do not have a crossover between the two headers. So we have to retune the entire engine, so that’s different camshafts and different features there,” Yates said. “So, yeah, my first response was the engine’s not changing but the engine is changing quite a bit and right now everybody at Roush-Yates and Ford are working hard to try and optimize that package to start the season. But it’s a busy, busy off season back at our facility in Mooresville.”

Yates notes that parts like longer exhaust pipes took longer to get because of supply chain issues. Hamlin is trying to replace a fleet of now-obsolete race cars as an owner while he learns the nuances of how to drive NextGen for another team – Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville.

“We certainly are concerned with supply issues at this point and what I’m terrified of is that if we have another semi-lockdown and if those suppliers can’t get the supplies they need to supply us,” Hamlin said. “Like, we’re on a tight, tight schedule right now.”

23XI is in a similar position to teams like defending champion Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte, Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing nearby at the Concord airport and Stewart Haas Racing in Kannapolis.

NextGen debuts in the exhibition Clash race at the Los Angeles Coliseum then the Daytona 500 qualifying races on Feb. 17 and thousands of people are racing to get ready.

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