NASCAR tests six-speed sequential gearbox in 2021 Next Gen car

The NASCAR Next Gen car is on the way for 2021, the current series now helping test a raft of modernizing updates to some components that can trace their roots back to the early 20th century. As Jalopnik notes, prime among them is a six-speed sequential transmission in transaxle configuration. Right now, NASCAR Cup cars use a four-speed H-pattern – the same Andrews A431 gearbox available in the Hendrick Motorsports Track Attack track-day cars. Bozi Tatarevic did some sleuthing for a report in Hagerty that pegged a modified Xtrac P1293 transaxle as the likely culprit. The same model is the spec gearbox for Australia’s Supercars Championship, where it offers six gears in a compact package weighing less than 140 pounds, a max torque rating of 495 pound-feet, and plenty of adjustment and gear-swapping options.

The present H-pattern shifter traces it roots back to a Borg-Warner unit from the 1930s. The Xtrac transmission, beyond helping NASCAR put another wheel in the 21st century, could help teams save money through not needing as many gearsets for the variety of ovals and road courses the series visits each year.

Assuming the Next Gen car goes with transaxle arrangement, that means the current solid-rear has to die, too. NASCAR has already confirmed an independent rear suspension, thought to be a coilover setup, and it’s suspected the front suspension will go independent as well. Fans could see larger wheels and wider tires. The Gen 7 cars testing now have 18-inch wheels, up from 15 inches, on wider, lower-profile tires that have increased from 10 inches wide (28/10-15) on the Gen 6 car to 14.3 inches (365/35 R18).

Aerodynamically, the test cars have used a stepped front splitter, placed new vents in the hood, added redesigned side skirts, and bolted on a large rear diffuser. Beyond the track, there’s wind tunnel work to get the rear diffuser to create more downforce, and new roof flaps and diffuser treatments to increase lift-off speed. The Gen 7 car at the second test also featured exhausts exiting from the bodywork ahead of the rear wheels.

The testing regimen started at Richmond, a short track with lower speeds, then to Phoenix, where cars run higher speeds and loads, and on to Homestead in Miami, the next step up in speed, aero load, and a variety of racing lines through the banking. The drivers used during testing — Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, and Erik Jones — have made positive assessments but are still getting their footing after running Gen 6 cars since 2013. Logano said the Next Gen car “doesn’t come back until the driver steers the car back — it doesn’t fix itself. And that puts it more in the driver’s hands. And I like that piece. It’s going to be challenging, but I think you’ll see more mistakes on the race track which makes, in my opinion, better racing, and more passing opportunities.”

Jones echoed those comments in Miami, saying, “We have a lot of sideforce in our cars now and there is a lot to lean on — when you get loose the car kind of corrects itself and straightens itself out. This car doesn’t really have any of that. The quarter panels are so short and there’s no offset in the car — it’s very symmetrical — so there’s not a lot to lean on in this car. I think a lot of the aero changes they’ve done are going to help as far as racing goes, especially racing in a pack. … I think as far as development goes, there is going to be a lot more mechanical grip available than what we currently have.”

The series’ SVP of racing innovation said there’ll be a Phase 3 prototype “which will take all of the lessons learned from the tests we’ve previously had. Once that is built, we’ll probably start using this car as a ‘second car’ to start simulating cars in traffic to see what we can learn from that.” The next test happens in March after the race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Assuming all goes to plan with the Next Gen car for 2021, NASCAR is pushing to go full hybrid for the 2022 season.

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Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR

Last hurrah for Homestead: Popular track hosts final title races

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — In many ways, Homestead-Miami Speedway was the ideal spot for NASCAR’s “championship weekend.”

Great weather, especially for November. A famous beach and trendy nightlife nearby. And a worn-out asphalt track that’s produced slipping, sliding, side-by-side racing and nine different winners in the last nine years.

The Cup Series champion has been crowned at the South Florida speedway every year since 2002 and will be again Sunday, for the 18th consecutive year.

Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are the title contenders, and the highest finisher among the four will clinch the championship. For one of them, it will be a life-changing moment. For Homestead, it will be a last hurrah.

NASCAR moved “championship weekend” to Phoenix in 2020, leaving Homestead to settle for a March race date amid Spring Break.

What happens in 2021 is unclear. Many believe the NASCAR finale will remain in Phoenix, especially after the sanctioning body recently spent $170 million on facility upgrades. But others think it should rotate.

“In all honesty, it shouldn’t be in Phoenix the year after,” Harvick said. “Having that championship race is important to new markets, new fans, exposing people to our sport. … To me, what happens in the race is irrelevant.

“It’s great that we’re going to crown a champion. We all love Homestead. The event and the market and the notoriety, the new things that come to a new market that help carry that racetrack for a number of years to come, are important. We have to use our championship event to rebuild enthusiasm in markets. I think that will be the first step to doing that.”

Homestead’s championship days might be numbered, but the memories of fantastic finales will linger.

The speedway has delivered several compelling clinchers, most notably in 2011 and 2016, and provided the backdrop for several high-profile retirement parties. NASCAR stars Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick all said goodbye in some fashion at the track.

Stewart walked away five years after his third and final Cup title, which may have been the most memorable of the three.

Stewart and Carl Edwards were the remaining contenders in 2011, and Edwards dominated for much of the first half of the race. Stewart, meanwhile, was running 25th before making some changes and charging to the front.

They ran 1-2 over the final 27 laps, but Edwards couldn’t chase down Stewart, who won his third Cup Series championship. They actually finished tied in points, but Stewart won the title on a tiebreaker (most victories).

“Did I make it exciting enough?” Stewart radioed to his team.

The finish was even better five years later.

Edwards was on the front row for a restart with 10 laps to go when he blocked fellow title contender Joey Logano and wrecked a chunk of the field. Jimmie Johnson eluded the crash and won his record-tying seventh Cup championship.

But the indelible image of the night was Edwards walking to the infield care center and stopping along the way to apologize to Logano’s team. Edwards walked away from the series two months later.

“The racetrack is phenomenal,” Hamlin said. “I believe as a driver you can really make a difference here. Even if your car is lacking a little bit, you can move around and change the characteristics of your car, the handling of your car through different lines and whatnot.”

But NASCAR decided to make the move to showcase its investment in ISM Raceway and Phoenix, which is considered a more enthusiastic racing market.

“There are pluses and minuses to everything, right?” Truex said. “I think the plus about here at Homestead, we only come here once a year. Completely different racetrack than anywhere we go. … I don’t know that we should race for a championship somewhere where we raced already in the season, you know?

“You’re going to have an idea who is going to be good. This weekend is a total crapshoot because we haven’t been here in a year. It’s a new car, new tire, everything is different. You have no idea what to expect. That’s a good thing for the championship. … At the same time, I definitely think we should move it around.”

Track officials have embraced the shift and recently upgraded several fan amenities to give the speedway a more South Beach feel.

They created Ally Beach, a 20,000-square-feet beach located inside Turn 3 that overlooks the spring-fed lake that spans the length of the backstretch. The beach will host an infield party for guests 18 and older and include live entertainment and water activities.

They also built a fan village that includes a sports bar as well as local music, salsa dancers and live paintings by local artists.

“It is bittersweet. There’s no question about it,” track president Al Garcia said. “But every time something happens, a door closes, another one opens. I really am very optimistic about the privilege of running here during that Spring Break time.”

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