NASCAR had no alternative other than to delay the Next Gen car for the Cup Series, and on Thursday, that decision became official.
Initially introduced as the Gen 7, the new model was expected to roll out in 2021. On March 17, NASCAR had announced a testing ban with the exception of the new car.
However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent setbacks in juggling the remaining 32 races on the current 2020 schedule, it became increasingly clear the debut of the Next Gen car would have to wait.
“Due to challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, the debut of the Next Gen car will be delayed until 2022,” said NASCAR senior vice president of racing innovation John Probst. “The decision was made in collaboration with the OEMs and team owners.
“We will continue to develop the Next Gen car, and a revised testing timeline will be shared when more information is available.”
NASCAR used the updated rules of the 2019 Cup car to create a platform for the Next Gen model. Richard Childress Racing undertook the development of the first prototype, which was tested by Austin Dillon at Richmond Raceway during a two-day session on Oct. 8 and 9.
“I really enjoyed driving the car,” Dillon said afterward. “I like the way that it looks. You can see the finished product down the road. The OEMs can make the body look really good, like a street car that you see on the road today.
“When it comes together and they all get their cars on the track, we’re going to have something to work with that also looks really good."
For the sake of parity, Ford driver Joey Logano tested the car at Phoenix Raceway in December followed by Erik Jones, from the Toyota camp, at Homestead in January.
Prior to William Byron shaking down the car at Auto Club Speedway following the race at Fontana, NASCAR updated the media on the progress of the Gen 7 in February. Clint Bowyer was expected to test the car on March 16. Another test was scheduled after Bristol. The sanctioning body had fully expected a multi-car test to occur at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the spring—and an accelerated roll-out for 2021.
But as the pandemic escalated and isolation became the new norm, it was increasingly clear that 2021 would be nearly impossible to expedite the project given the number of suppliers in the U.S. and abroad that were necessary to assemble the Next Gen cars.
Add to that the toll on the teams that likely will be working overtime as NASCAR shuffles the schedule to accommodate the remaining races. Insiders have suggested a revised schedule that would include four weeknight races as well as two more doubleheaders in addition to the scheduled back-to-back Cup races at Pocono Raceway.
“Whether we should run that car or not next year, in my opinion, I think you should shelve the Next Gen car for a year just to take a load off of the teams that we’re going to have when we go back racing,” Kevin Harvick said on SiriusXM NASCAR Happy Hours. “I think we’re going to see some midweek races to make up for the races we haven’t seen.
“At the beginning of the year, it got started, but as you go through this break, you have a whole lot of questions…the questions will be: How much are we going to race? How many times are we going to race? What’s the style and the format going to be once we get to the race track, one-day, two-day, three-day? Are we going to qualify or we not going to qualify? Are we going to practice or we not going to practice?
“So there’s going to be a lot to navigate as we fire this whole thing back up. For us, that’s kind of the million-dollar question right now. You don’t really know how to stack your cars as to what you’re going to race and what car you’re going to use.”
Four days after postponing the races at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 13, NASCAR president Steve Phelps expected the Gen 7 would continue as planned—but there was no way he could have possibly anticipated the devastation coronavirus would inflict on the American public over the next three weeks.
“The variables keep changing, right? The hurdles keep being put in front of this industry, and this industry keeps jumping over them, then there's another, it jumps over that, then another and another,” Phelps said during a teleconference with the media on March 17. It’s not an easy situation for sure, but it's one that this industry is managing together.
“Really proud of how this industry has come together to try to support each other and to try to get through this as best we can. Again, it's a difficult situation.”
The current state of affairs will be less stressful by simply concentrating on the task at hand—getting back to racing. Following the coronavirus crisis, developing the Next Gen car for 2021 was a burden that teams didn’t need to undertake, and NASCAR made the right call.