The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Well, that can’t be said for the new NASCAR Next Gen stock car that will be making its debut in just a few months at Daytona International Speedway for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.
That’s because everything about the car is new and different from what has traditionally been raced through NASCAR’s 70-plus year history.
No, the cars aren’t strictly stock as they were when NASCAR conducted its first such race at the Charlotte Fairgrounds in 1949, but there are more parts and pieces that make Next Gen models like Ford’s Mustang more relevant to what is being sold in showrooms.
“Some of the architectural improvements in the car is an independent rear suspension,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “The current NASCAR that we’re racing is a solid axle rear suspension that we don’t sell in our cars today, so to go to an independent rear suspension was important for the architecture but also the learning that we can apply to our road cars and to our engineering tools.”
Another element Next Gen provides is the ability to add technology without having to completely overhaul the car, meaning a transition to hybrid could be done seamlessly.
“We’ll keep racing with the same naturally-aspirated V8, but because it’s been package protected, we can put in an electric motor to drive the rear transaxle, so that we can be racing hybrid in the very near future,” said Rushbrook. “That’s similar to what we’re doing with our road cars. We know that our road car cycle plan is going to continue to change, and our racing needs to be able to change with it. This car gives us that opportunity.”
And while there’s a great deal of anticipation and excitement around what these changes will mean for NASCAR, there’s also a sense of anxiety within teams as they try to figure out what makes the new car tick.
“These cars are going to be much more difficult to work on because there are a lot less adjustments teams are going to be able to make,” said Richard Johns, NASCAR program engineer, Ford Performance. “It’s a flange fit composite body rather than a steel body, so right now the teams can fabricate and move and pull and do some things. They’re not going to be able to do a lot of that stuff with the flange fit body.”
Teams will still be able to do some tuning on a granular level, but there’s no denying that Next Gen is a big change for everyone.
“This is going to change the industry. It’s going to change the sport and it’s going to be for the better,” continued Johns. “It’s something that we need. It’s something that we’ve needed for a long time, and it takes us to the next step. I wasn’t around in the seventies when we went from the big cars to the little cars, but it’s a change of that magnitude.”
Just how big of a change can be found in the different features this car has compared to what is currently being run. Some of those include:
- 5-speed sequential gear box
- Independent rear suspension
- Symmetric body shape
- 18-inch tires with forged aluminum wheels
- Wheels will only have one center lug nut
- Shorter rear overhang
- Radiator exit vents through the hood
- Complete underwing
- Engine combustion air and engine cooling air all comes through the nose
- Driver moved inboard and down
- Rack and Pinion steering
- Carbon Fiber composite body – FFCB (Flange Fit Composite Body)
- Coil over suspension
- Exhaust out both sides
“One of the important things about motorsport is that we have cars on the road that people can relate to. The technology that’s now in this car is much more akin to what people drive every day in their Mustang,” said Trevor Worthington, vice president, Global Product Development Operations & Vehicle Programs, Ford Motor Company. “All of those things come together with the surfacing of the car to make a great overall story that’s going to be much more relevant for people as they watch this car on the track.”
With teams still in the initial stages of building new cars and preparing for an on-track test at Charlotte Motor Speedway Oct. 11-12, the learning curve figures to be steep. Johns has been part of the Ford Performance team overseeing the car’s development from the outset and understands the challenges that lie ahead.
When asked when he will finally feel comfortable about this newest Mustang, he gave a response most engineers in his position would give.
“When we win the Daytona 500.”