NASCAR Media Conference with Steve O’Donnell
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, Steve O’Donnell.
Steve, the horsepower and spoiler were listed as TBD. How do you go about determining it, and do you see much difference in the horsepower and spoilers on these cars than what we’re seeing currently?
STEVE O’DONNELL: I think somewhat similar range. We’re still trying to dial in a few things, still a couple other conversations to have with the industry, the engine builders as we see kind of leading into the next couple Superspeedway races, the All-Star Race, and then make a final decision.
We’re within a window where the industry is comfortable with. We know that we can take that to future technologies, as well, so we’ll be somewhat close to where we’re at today but still not finalized.
With the diffuser, how much does that help in terms of changing the lift-off speed of the car, and is there any at this point update in terms of what you guys are finding in the Joey Logano crash, if there’s a concern about that it lifted or was it as much because of the contact from another car?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Yeah, so two parts there. I’d say from the diffuser, we’ll certainly add to the components of lift-off and help. That’s why we put it there. But similar to the characteristics of the current car, we’ll be at if not better than where we are today in terms of lift-off.
And then in terms of Joey’s incident, yeah, we’ve done a lot of work on that. We actually just presented it to the drivers. We’re having ongoing dialogue with the drivers. I think if anything you can see us take a look at the speeds of the car as we head potentially into our next Superspeedway race, but yeah, it all had kind of to do with the angle and where the car was and the contact.
Curious, with the underbodies of these cars now being sealed, how do you plan on addressing driver cooling in the cockpit, and have there been concerns about drivers being more overheated because of the bodies being more sealed on the bottom?
STEVE O’DONNELL: That’s a good question, but the drivers have talked to us. The good news about this car is really from the onset, we’ve worked with them, on the different components, what they’re feeling in the car, how that will work. I think we’re comfortable with the cooling system right now and where things are at.
We’ll still look at some things as we go through these multicar tests coming up in August, October and November to see if there’s any more we can learn from what we need to do inside the car, but as far as car temps, I feel like we’re in a good spot if we were just kind of to leave it as-is heading into Daytona.
Obviously when these cars get on the track next year, it’s not going to be the final product in terms of the racing, as the teams work on it and you work on it and get the cars where you want to be. What’s a reasonable timeline in your mind in terms of when you feel like the product on the track is what you’ll want to see? Are we talking — is it going to take a full season next year? Do you feel like a couple months? What’s the timeline?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Good question. I think everyone will want to judge it after the Daytona 500. That’s the nature of our business. But in reality, I think you do need to take the full year, and even into 2023, candidly, because you’ve seen even between last year and this year the difference even with a lot of the rules in place, the number of winners we’ve had this year and just the difference in how different teams are performing.
So we’ll take a look at each and every track. I think it would be fair if you looked at the first time we went to a venue, how did that relate to the second race, what are the changes that we may or may not have seen, and then it’ll be our job to work with the industry and make sure that the reasons for this car and the reasons we put it together remain intact. That’s to deliver the best racing possible and make sure that we keep it within the bounds of allowing as many teams to go out there and compete and compete for wins.
What is a fair to judge it? Will it be lap times? Will it be results, parity? What is the best way to judge this project, if you will, in the years to come, whenever you may start?
STEVE O’DONNELL: It’s a great question. I think you all will do a great job of judging it. That’s the nature of our business. In terms of what storylines are out there, usually story lines come from the competitiveness on the racetrack.
We’ll look at not necessarily speeds, right, we want to look at the safety aspect for sure, but we’re going to look at how many teams can be competitive, the number of different leaders, the number of different winners, the OEMs, are they all able to compete.
And then longer term, what is this doing for ownership, not only for our existing owners but potentially new owners and then from there looking at OEMs. This won’t just be kind of a one or two to three-month overview from us. We’re going to look at it from a long-term. This was a project that’s taken a long time, and the reason is we want this to go out into the future and be a product that can not only race in ’22 but well beyond that for the fans.
Ultimately the fans are going to judge this, and if the fans like what they see, we’ll continue to do more of that.
Just a follow-up on safety, the new car, is it adaptable? You may learn something from the Joey crash or what have you or even going forward. Is there adaptability built into the car in terms of safety changes needed?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Absolutely. We can make any change, just as if we do today, changes that were made from Daytona to Talladega. Those same things are in our toolkit, so to speak, to be able to do that. So if we found something that we need to react to from a safety standpoint, we can do that and we will do that.
In talking to a few drivers, the new symmetrical design has completely altered the flow of air around the cars. How is that going to impact racing, especially when you get on a busy track?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Well, that’s a great question. One of the things that we’ve noticed around our racing is the sideforce issue, and that was something that we really tried to tackle with this new design in the race car.
It won’t be easy. It’s going to be more difficult to drive, especially as you get into the corners. But that’s something that we’re encouraged by. We want to put more of this back in the drivers’ hands, so we’ll judge that, especially on the intermediate tracks, what are drivers able to do for each and every lap, pulling up on cars and that ability to pass and not be stalled out.
That’s something we’re really going to focus in on as we go throughout the ’22 season.
I’m just curious, is the Next Gen chassis built by Dallara intended to be a Cup Series-only car for the foreseeable future, or are there any plans to change what is run in Xfinity or Trucks?
STEVE O’DONNELL: That’s a great question. For now it is solely Cup. As we take a look and evolve this, we want to take a look at where could it play if we really like the directions it’s going in from all aspects, not just the racing but when we look at kind of the whole car in its entirety around potential ownership and where we’re going and new OEMs, there are some things we could look at, body styles that you may be able to put on that chassis.
So nothing planned today, but we have had some internal discussions on where could this be, not only domestically but maybe this is something used internationally, as well.
You’ve got a lot of changes on this car. What would you say has been the single biggest kind of conceptual change or the biggest engineering headache? Is there anything that’s given you guys sleepless nights?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Oh, man, you name it, every part and piece. It really depended on the discussions you were having. It started out particularly around the OEMs, the desire for some to go to one lug, others not, the desire for some teams to have some different looks on the car.
I’d say for us it was just — once we had buy-in that we were going to listen and work together as much as possible, we weren’t always going to agree, but each part and piece became something that when you sat down as a group for that first RFP and vendors came in and gave their presentation, that got easier along the way, and I think we tended to have the same answers or the same reactions across the board in our industry about a particular vendor, so things got much easier as we went through the process.
So it’s tough to point out one. I’d say maybe just the initial that we’re going and we’re going to do this, getting everyone to buy in on the concept overall was probably the toughest.
In terms of the headline grabbing changes like the independent rear suspension, the rack-and-pinion steering, was there one of those features that stood out?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Probably the steering aspect. I think especially around the OEMs, that was big. You hear Joey talk about going to the fifth gear. I think there’s a lot of components that some would probably think were already part of the cars that we currently race that we wanted to modernize, and for us to be able to do that in step with the OEMs was a big deal.
Obviously we’ve only seen two cars on the track at a time. Any talk about doing a mass test and getting more than two? Could we see something like we used to have in January where you would go to Daytona and test? Could we see another January Daytona test or maybe doing it at All-Star Race?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Yeah, it’s a great point. We have tests coming up in August will be the first time that we’ll look at Daytona with multiple cars on the track. And then as you fast forward towards the end of the season, October, I believe, we’ll have both the Roval and the oval with multiple cars on the track from each of the race teams, and then following that up post-Phoenix, we’ll dial that in with the race teams, as well, with a number of cars out on the track.
Don’t have anything concrete yet for Daytona around that January time frame, but those will be what will be in place towards the end of this year with multiple cars out there.
You’re open to that?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Daytona, yeah. I think there’s still discussions. As we look at framing up and finalizing the overall ’22 schedule, part of those discussions are around what could be cool around a test here or there, so yeah, we’d be open to that.
How much safety testing has gone into the course of the development of this car?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Well, we’d be happy to take you through kind of all the CFD runs that have been done with the car. We’ve had an incredible amount of safety analysis already done, and we’ve got some coming up with actual on-track where we’ll crash the car, as well, like we do similarly to Nebraska. We took the drivers through that yesterday. We will continue to do that and meet with the drivers.
When you see all the testing that’s gone in, an incredible amount of focus on that area to make sure that these cars are as safe as possible, I think we’ve got a pretty good track record with this current car, and the good news is we can build upon that, and what we’ve learned is already incorporated into this car, and then we’re able to adjust where we need to.
THE MODERATOR: Steve, thank you for joining us, and can’t wait to see this car on track.
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