Is NASCAR’s Next-Gen Car Compatible with Bristol Dirt?

Is NASCAR’s Next-Gen Car Compatible with Bristol Dirt?

04/01/2021

Bristol Motor Speedway will once again host a NASCAR Cup Series dirt event in 2022 but what that looks like remains an open question.

The format will need to be refined after the sanctioning body made several changes throughout the weekend due to tire wear concerns. The industry is already considering suitable companion events after Crate Late Models were used to work in the surface prior to both the Cup and Truck Series features.

Most importantly, NASCAR may even face a choice over which generation Cup Series car to take back to Thunder Valley next year.

The next-generation car is scheduled to make its debut in February during Daytona Speedweeks and will be used throughout the entire season … unless teams and the sanctioning body decide to run the old car back for the second annual Bristol Dirt Race.

Initial conversations have already taken place and are necessary because the new car might not be immediately compatible with dirt due to its independent rear suspension.

Team Penske competition director Travis Geisler says using the current car next year for the dirt race at Bristol was “something to certainly consider” once conversations begin in earnest.

“If this (current) car was a challenge, it’s going to be a whole other set of challenges,” Geisler said. “Certainly, early in the season for the whole industry, so we’ll still be kind of new to that car, which will make it even more challenging.

“(The current car) we kind of know so much about the history, kind of how things tear up, what happens throughout the course of events. … The (Next-Gen) body being totally different, all the suspension being different.

“I can’t really say independent rear suspensions have been run on dirt. I can remember John Mason trying it when I was probably about five or six. That was pretty unsuccessful. I think we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks is an advocate of running the old car back on the dirt.

“What I know about this Next-Gen car now that I’ve seen it up close and gotten underneath it, I feel like it would be mud-bogging with an Indy Car if we took this Next-Gen car to the dirt track next year,” Marks said.

Marks, who is an advocate for dirt racing in general, says the conversations has already started.

“I know that that discussion has already started to take place among ownership in the sport right now, probably even before the race that question was raised,” Marks said. “This new car is a very sophisticated piece of equipment, and this racetrack is very hard on these cars. We were welding between practice and the race because of how rough this track was on our cars. That was a topic of conversation within the team.

“I believe that for team ownership … is to probably have cars that are specifically for this dirt track. If that means we take this car back next year, I’m completely fine with that.”

The independent suspension is doable on dirt if rally cars are any indication, but another challenge is Goodyear and finding an 18” tire that is compatible with the new platform and its wheels.

A bigger consideration is that the Next-Gen will be just a couple months into its tenure depending on when the Bristol Dirt Race is scheduled, and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to put the platform on dirt and risk tearing a bunch of them up.

Sunday’s runner-up finisher Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also believes the current generation car would make for a better show next season.

“I think a lot of the teams, crew guys would advocate using these cars, especially with everything we learned this weekend,” Stenhouse said. “Maybe we could put on a better race using the same car with the notes that we had.

“I don’t know if the owners and the teams want to keep switching back and forth between race cars throughout the year … but I do think the racing could be pretty good if we brought these same race cars back.”

A popular sentiment throughout the garage is at that visibility from the dust wouldn’t be as much of a concern if NASCAR eliminated the windshields from the cars like dirt Late Models or Modifieds, too.

However, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller says eliminating the windshield is likely a non-starter.

“I realize that dirt cars don’t have windshields in them, but in our cars, the entire level of protection and level of safety is based on having the windshield in there,” Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think that’s not something we’re not going to look at. But because that windshield and the way that it is made can keep a lot of potential harm away from the driver, that might be a hard one to get for us. It’s certainly something we will get some feedback on and let everyone weigh in on.”


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