By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Anytime a new piece of equipment gets rolled out in real-world conditions, issues are sure to rear their head and Sunday’s debut of the NASCAR Next Gen car in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum was no different.
As the car was put through its paces on a purpose-built track inside the confines of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the demands of the quarter-mile track provided one of the toughest tests yet for the designs of the new car.
Through the heat races and last chance qualifiers ahead of the main event, the car seemed to hold its own, but just past the 50-lap mark in the Clash, a rash of mechanical issues struck all at once, sidelining a number of drivers, including Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin, and Chase Briscoe.
Reddick was among the strongest cars in the field and was leading at the time when his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet slowed to a stop under caution, bringing his day to an early end. As he was being pushed to the infield, he radioed to his crew that he thought the transaxle – a new feature in the Next Gen car – had broken.
“I was trying to get some heat in the tires and I think I broke the transaxle,” Reddick said. “I don’t know. That’s a little scary, thinking about all the pitstops that we’re going to do, dropping the clutch like that. So, unfortunate, but I’d rather break it here than in a points-paying race or at the Daytona 500.”
“Just an incredible job by our guys. This Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet was amazing. We really did a lot of the right things going into this race and we took off a little better than Kyle did, and our car drove good in traffic.
“It’s a bummer, but it’s not too heartbreaking at the same time because what I did directly caused the breakage it seems. We’ll learn from it, and hope to never let it happen again. We’ll turn it into a positive and learn from it the best we can for the season that’s coming.”
Meanwhile, Hamlin had also taken his car behind the wall, with an issue with the power steering belt being the cause of his early exit from the race.
Mechanical,” Hamlin said of the issue with his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “It looks like the power steering belt evidently came off and took the hose with it. We didn’t have any steering ability.
“This is something you will probably see a lot of this year. It’s just fixing all of the bugs that are going to happen. We just, unfortunately, had a power steering issue.
To complete the trio of failures was Briscoe, who ran into issues for a second day in a row. After suffering a broken throttle cable during practice Saturday, it was an issue with the driveline in Sunday’s race that caused his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to slow to a stop on the apron, requiring a push behind the wall.
“No drive…it made a rattling noise when I hit the gas,” Briscoe radioed to his crew about the issue.
Despite the mechanical issues that came about during the race, the new car held up well to the demands of the Coliseum track, with drivers beating and banging on the track’s tight confines, looking no worse for wear after doing so.
Asked about how the car performed in Sunday’s race, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell was pleased with what he saw, but noted they would look into the mechanical issues to make sure they fully understand what happened.
“This is probably the toughest test we could have on the track that we set up in terms of durability, beating and banging, driveline, different things. We’ll learn from that,” O’Donnell said.
“We’ll kind of look through each and every car, not only those but the incidents we had, impacts on the wall, what broke. You saw a lot of cars that historically, if we ran this race last year with the old car, would have been out with tire rub, tire damage. That’s a positive. Any part or piece we see an issue, we’ll have a big debrief, get on it, fix it.”