Wallace gets his first chance with NASCAR Next Gen

Darrell Wallace Jr. finally got on track Wednesday afternoon at Richmond Raceway after weather interrupted what was supposed to be a two-day test for NASCAR’s latest Next Gen prototype.

During one of the last breaks of the day, Wallace admitted it “was a lot of fun “trying to figure out the car.” It was Wallace’s first time driving the new car and the second time NASCAR has brought it to Richmond.

The Virginia short track was where NASCAR first tested Next Gen back in October of 2019. However, this week’s test primarily focused on tires. NASCAR is done developing the car that will debut next February and now is shifting to helping Goodyear work on its tire package.

“This is really a tire test more than anything,” Wallace said. “Our first two runs were kind of a balance adjustment — we were a little bit on the free side and snugged it up a little bit. But since then, we’ve been focused on tires.

“One thing I’ve noticed about the car is that the balance doesn’t really change over a long run. But the tires are falling off — we’re testing different constructions and compounds to figure out what tire would work best for a race here.”

Previous Next Gen tests include visits to Daytona International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway (oval and Roval), Fontana and Phoenix. Wallace did not talk to any of the other drivers who have previously tested the car, wanting to learn it for himself. While Wallace said Next Gen is different from what he is driving in the Cup Series, it’s still making all the right noises.

“The car sounds really cool,” he said. “From the inside, it sounds really mean.”

Beyond tire development, NASCAR managing director of vehicle systems Brandon Thomas said officials were also researching the cockpit’s temperature. Using thermal imaging, officials wanted to make sure the driver was comfortable, especially during races in the summer heat.

“We’ve come a long way since we had our first with Prototype 1 here in October 2019,” Thomas said. “It was obviously a big feat to get that first car built and here, and that first car, we showed up here, and it was like, ‘I hope this thing actually turns a lap.’

“This is kind of coming full circle for us in terms of test plans. We’re back with Prototype 3, which is very similar to what the final production car will be. Looking at lap times from the fall race here, we are running the same speeds as the current car. As an engineer, there are still some things that I could look at and say, ‘I’d like to do x to make this a perfect machine,’ but that’s not our role.

“Our role is to create a great race car that puts on great races. People want to watch a race where drivers have to dig in to be competitive, not a race where every car happens to drive perfectly. Overall, the performance of the car is where we want it to be.”