By David Morgan, Associate Editor
AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas marks the road course debut of the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen car. With limited track time ahead of the race, much of how the new car will race on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course remains a mystery.
Despite the unknowns, a number of drivers explained how they think the car will race when the green flag drops on Sunday.
Chase Briscoe – No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
“I think you’re going to see a lot more guys running up front. I felt like with the old car there was maybe six of us that really understood how to brake late compared to guys. They didn’t drive very good at all, so there were very few of us that kind of figured out the braking and all that.
“I think with this new car, it drives easier. Not easier, but better, right? It brakes better. It does everything better, so I think you’re going to see more guys be up to speed. I think the field is going to be much tighter on the road courses than it’s ever been, so I think that part of it is going to be interesting.
I don’t know what to expect. None of us have really run on a road course, other than the ROVAL for a half a day or a day or whatever. From a setup standpoint at the ROVAL, you could work all day and try to figure it out, where here you get six laps maybe (in practice) and you better hope from the shop it’s really good. It’ll be interesting.”
Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
“There’s definitely going to be a lot more grip. As we’ve already seen with this car, it is edgier though. The body on this car doesn’t have the side force, the sidewall of this tire isn’t as pronounced, so you don’t have the deflection of the old tire. So, this car is just edgier.
“It’s new to a lot of us. It’s still new to everybody, honestly. We’re still learning a lot about where the car likes to be. You know, especially to start this year, the car is going to be a little bit touchier. It’s going to be harder to understand where it needs to be good, so the more and more we learn this car, the more they are going to drive better and everyone is going to close the gaps back up I’d say.
“I don’t know if the overall lap time will be much different with this car to the old car, but you’re certainly going to see it really flex its muscles in different areas. Braking zones, the really slow speed stuff, its agility, its ability to recover in the braking zones, all those things are going to be a lot better.”
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
“You know, I think it’ll be more comfortable and more fun to drive here on the road courses. We’ve all, I feel like, have enjoyed the car as far as the performance and the battles on the race track. I think it’s put on a good show. Hopefully it continues to do that here.
“Again, a little bit more road course driven compared to what we’ve ever been used to, so I don’t know if that will make the excitement less or more. I think that’s just something that we’re going to have to find out here, but I know all of us are looking forward to driving more of a real road course car on a place like COTA here. Such a cool track. We’re looking forward to getting out there.
“Charging the corners, bigger tires, wider tires will be nice. Sequential shifting is going to be beneficial. You can kind of rub tires and rub fenders and stuff and not automatically get a tire rub, which I think will be pretty nice. We’d always run here with our old cars and you’d be timid to touch because you didn’t want to get a tire rub, because that would kill your day. So, I think you’ll be able to be a little more aggressive.”
Michael McDowell – No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
“Obviously the brakes are better, the transmission is better, the car is a little bit more nimble left to right, but it’s also big and heavy and not a lot of downforce. So, it’s doing all the same stuff a normal Cup car would do, just a little bit better.
“I think you’ll be able to attack it more for sure, especially in the braking zones.”
William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
“Less preconceived ideas on what the car should do because it’s really different than anything we’ve done. It’s probably closer to a sports car, especially on a road course, or a Trans-Am car than what we’re used to.
“I think it’s got a lot of potential. The guys who have unlocked the potential seem to be really fast. I think it’s got a ton of grip if you make it handle well, because it’s got such big brakes and really good drive off. Those things are there, you just have to unlock them.”
Chris Buescher – No. 17 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford
“20 minutes (of practice) isn’t enough time to get a good enough read. We’ve got a lot to learn yet. The brakes seem good, but we were able to get what, seven laps maybe, so don’t know where they’re going to go. Don’t know what the tires are going to do on the long run.
“Watching the 12 spin and hit the fence in practice and still be able to go, that’s promising for some durability here. I know there is a lot of run-off at COTA, so that helps. We might be in a good place to put on a good show and have some good racing.”
Cole Custer – No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
“I think it’s a way better road course car than it is an oval car. You know, way more meant for that. You can hit really hard in the braking zones, really attack that, and you have the bigger tire that you can take advantage of. Honestly, it’s a great road course car and I think it’ll put on a good show.
“With these bodies, you can beat and bang a little bit more and be more aggressive on the brakes. It’s going to be an aggressive race; you can promise that.”
Austin Cindric – No. 2 Team Penske Ford
“I think there’s a lot of things about the car that you’re able to optimize a lot more. Like the braking, I think that’s the biggest thing. You just have a much better feel with the brakes and to be able to drive in deep and not have to manage wheel hop. It’s much more traditional, much easier to optimize.
“There’s a lot of things about the car, fundamentally, that certainly make it challenging to drive. That starts with the ride heights and shock stops. There are certain limitations that I don’t think anyone has experienced in a race car until driving one of these Next Gen cars. So, just trying to figure out where the limits are.
“The thing that makes this car different has been the aero. I still think, even though we’re on a road course, it’s still going to be the aero. So, understanding how close you can follow other guys, what different effects you feel under braking, all those things have yet to be seen. I think guys will definitely gauge their aggression level probably through mistakes. That’s usually how it’s figured out and we’ve got a long race (Sunday).”