Next Gen unloads some curveballs at NASCAR’s Roval test

Alex Bowman described driving Next Gen as a “bit of a nightmare” when the steering problems that the teams have been battling during the two-day test at the Charlotte Roval arise.

“It drives awesome compared to the current car when the steering is OK,” Bowman said on Tuesday afternoon. “It has more grip. With the solid axle in the current car, it’s pretty difficult at the road courses because you have to be pretty ginger with it and try to avoid wheel hop. With the independent rear suspension, it makes it easier to drive on the road course stuff.

“When the steering issues pop up, it’s a bit of a nightmare. We’ve had some laps without steering issues, and I think it drives great, and then obviously we’ve been working through trying to dial in the issues we’ve had.”

John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of racing innovation, acknowledged the problems as something many teams are experiencing. Attributing some of the hiccups to set screws backing out, Probst said it comes with the territory of testing a new vehicle, and is confident the garage will find a solution.

“I think we’re on steering rack four or five,” Bowman said. “We’re working really hard to fix it, and I think the advantage of having so many cars here and people here is that there are a ton of smart people working on fixing it, because obviously, we all have to get that dialed in. It’s definitely been a headache, but that’s why we’re here to test. Nothing goes perfectly, and it’s a new design, and we got to get it worked out.”

Trying to describe what is happening with the steering in layman terms, Corey LaJoie likened it to a worn-out front tire on a street car. It’s enough of a wobble that the driver needs to keep two hands on the wheel instead of using one to grab a gear.

“Depending on how much vertical load the car is taking, the rack does some weird things,” LaJoie said.

Are these serious concerns or growing pains of building a new car?

“There are fundamental structural problems with the steering components with what we have now,” LaJoie said. “If it was an easy fix, it’d already be fixed by now.”

Joey Logano couldn’t get into specifics about what Team Penske is fighting with the steering because it’s extensive.

“Name it,” Logano laughed. “I don’t know where to start. We’ve had issues.”

Reddick said it is hard to turn the wheel.

It hasn’t been a surprise to Logano or Reddick that things are different now compared to when they first tested the Next Gen prototype. For Logano, that was back in the winter of 2019 at Phoenix, while Reddick tested it earlier this year at Darlington.

“Quite surprising, the amount of similarities it has to our current car,” Reddick said. “For me, the only thing that makes it feel different isn’t even necessarily the tire or the sequential transmission or the suspension under it. It’s the difference between an older, more complex, sloppier steering box and the steering rack we have in (this) car.”

Teams are limited to one car per two-car organization, or two cars per three or four-car organization. Penske has two cars at the test plus the alliance car from Wood Brothers Racing, and it’s the first opportunity for teams to work with multiple drivers getting track time.

Travis Geisler, the competition director for Team Penske, admitted to some pains through the first day. He described Monday as excruciating slow and frustrating because teams used to making eight to 10 runs by lunchtime couldn’t get in and out of the garage quickly with changes, weren’t getting things figured out, and that brought on some level of anxiety.

As the day progressed and into Tuesday, everyone got a better hang of the new car.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Geisler said of working on Next Gen. “It’s a lot more like a street car as far the changes. It seems like you have to take 10 things off to get to one, but now I think everybody is starting to figure out how to get around (the car). What are the workflows? What are the work paths? It just a lot of things where everybody was so programmed for so long on what to do, and now we’re starting over.”