NASCAR executives give competition update ahead of 2021 season

With the first cars ready to hit the track in just over a week, NASCAR executives met with the media Monday to talk about safety updates and new rules for the 2021 season.

The executives led by Steve O’Donnell, included John Bobo, Scott Miller, John Probst, Jay Fabian, Wayne Auton and Brad Moran.

Much of the discussion centered on NASCAR Next Gen which Probst, Senior Vice President of Racing Innovation, said has completed development and that all three manufacturers — Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota- have had their designs for the Next Gen car approved. The car will return to the track March 16-17 at Richmond Raceway, Probst said, and a handful of Goodyear tire tests were planned beyond that. All three automakers are set to have models on the track at the same time during a proposed test for wheel-force data collection at Martinsville Speedway in late March.

Probst said to expect a full reveal of the three manufacturer-specific Next Gen models in late spring. The car was originally scheduled to debut in competition this season, but COVID-19’s impact pushed back that schedule.

“In hindsight, when we were on target for 2021 and now, we’ve gone through all of this, we look back and boy, we probably would’ve had our tongues hanging out right now if we were to launch it in 2021, which we could’ve done,” Probst said. “I think we’re certainly on schedule. We’re probably actually being able to spend a little more time since we pushed it out to 2022, focusing on a lot of the line-item costs.”

The P3 Next Gen prototype will be used in tire testing at Richmond, Darlington Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway this year, and seven tests are scheduled for wheel-force transducer (WFT) Next Gen cars and three organizational tests for teams. Probst said at least one organizational test would take place after the Charlotte Roval race on Oct. 10, with two set for after the season ends. Two tire tests are also scheduled for the current car model this season.

In other developments, NASCAR said they will use the low downforce package at the races on the Daytona road course, as well as the events at Darlington Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway. And all the added road courses to the schedule — Circuit of the Americas, Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Road America — will use the 750-horsepower package.

The dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway will look similar to past Camping World Truck Series races at Eldora Speedway, featuring qualifying heats to set the starting lineup. Scott Miller Senior VP of competition said the exact qualifying and race format is to be determined, but that the race itself will be 250 laps total with stages of 75-150-250 laps.

NASCAR has increased the field count of the Xfinity Series to 36 cars per race when there is practice and qualifying the Truck Series as well to 36 trucks per race, and 40 in each series when there is no practice or qualifying.

A new rule from the rulebook states that should a crew member behind the pit wall lose their balance and touch pit road while grabbing a tire, it will no longer a penalty. Also, for the champion provisional in both Xfinity and Trucks, the champion must have won the title in the past 10 years.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still very much an issue, NASCAR will continue to use COVID-19 protocols that were established last season, adding rapid testing in some instances; something that was started late last season., reporting and supplementing its screening processes. Bobo said that teams have been reminded about proper use of masks as a coronavirus safeguard when at the racetrack.

“We’re constantly monitoring what’s going on in terms of the virus, also as it relates to the communities that we’re going into,” Bobo said. “We always want to be a good guest in every community and be aware of everything that’s happening there. … We continue to put as many tools as possible into the protocol toolbox. Like last season toward the end of the year, we did a lot of rapid-antigen testing as part of a secondary screening as people were coming into the track. We’re going to continue this season as well as part of secondary screenings to do rapid-antigen testings if requested by the position, and it’s a great tool when we need to use that.”

And NASCAR continued its diversity and inclusion work in the off-season. O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer said that sensitivity training has been made mandatory for the entire industry and that membership in the sport is contingent on completing the training. “I would say that our mantra to be as inclusive as we possibly can has never been stronger,” O’Donnell said.

Greg Engle