Over the past few years, the development of NASCAR’s NextGen car has produced a ton of hype in anticipation of its 2022 debut.
With an innovative design, and positive testing feedback from drivers, expectations are high that the new car will produce an even higher level of racing.
But with NASCAR’s latest NextGen test, there’s a new development that may just completely change the sport as we know it.
If there’s one thing NASCAR fans hate, it’s when a race weekend’s forecast calls for rain.
For most series around the world that race exclusively on road courses, rain is actually a cause for excitement, as the conditions produce unpredictable and exciting racing.
Even NASCAR has seen rain at a road course like the Charlotte ROVAL produce incredible action, as teams threw on wet-weather tires and let it rip.
But for a majority of the NASCAR season that sees the series run on ovals, the rain is a major issue as a wet-weather tire that makes it safe to race on a damp asphalt or concrete oval has yet to be developed.
On top of that, rain is also an issue for the sport’s broadcasting partners, as waiting out rain and the multiple hours it takes to dry the surface with AirTitans pushed races late into the night or the next day, decreasing TV viewership.
That could all be changing with the NextGen car, though, as NASCAR held a test at the historic Martinsville Speedway on Thursday in which they dampened the surface and tested a new Goodyear wet-weather tire.
Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson and Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher ran the test on a damp Martinsville surface with the hope that the new rain tire would prove capable of allowing NASCAR to get back to racing quicker after inclement weather on shorter ovals.
And based on the feedback from NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Innovation John Probst, while the test didn’t provide a clear cut answer on the feasibility of a wet-weather tire, it was a “positive” and “promising” step forward.
“We’re in evaluation right now,” Probst said Thursday afternoon. “I would say that we could have come in here today and had a complete disaster and walked away from it saying, ‘No, this can’t be done.’ I think what we learned today was positive for sure. I think that we just need a little bit of time to go through all the data to figure out what are the next best steps.”
“I would say that we continue the journey, and it looks positive for now,” Probst continued. “Today could have ended it, but it certainly didn’t do that. I feel like everyone involved felt like it was a very positive test, but it’s still fresh and certainly a very, very good first step.”
Throughout the test, a water truck doused the .526-mile oval, and the teams alternated between running dry-weather slicks, existing wet-weather tires used for road courses, and new track-specific Goodyear compounds that were grooved to transfer moisture away.
“We had some Sonoma compounds and then actually some Martinsville compounds that were carved to the tread profile that we’d anticipate the 18-inch tire (for the Next Gen car) would be molded to,” Probst said. “So we tested different compounds and different tread layout. Like I’ve said, we still have a lot of data to go through, but the one thing that’s pretty clear is, either of the treads versus a slick seems to dry the track much quicker.”
According to Probst, officials will continue to comb through the data in the coming weeks, while also weighing the feedback from Larson and Beuscher, who both appeared to be very pleased with the viability of the wet-weather tires after the test.
“I don’t really have much wet-weather experience, so it was kind of cool to figure that out,” Larson said. “Honestly didn’t drive way different. You could still slow down good, turn good. Drive-off was easy to spin your tires, but other than that, it was kind of fun to chase the grip throughout the portions where it would start drying. So it was pretty fun and yeah, I think they’ve got a pretty good product that we could honestly start racing with right away if we needed to on these short tracks.”
While the new wet-weather tires seem to be extremely promising, it’s unlikely NASCAR will implement them anytime soon.
Probst and others have cautioned that while the tires seemed to perform well in the test and the drivers gave them great reviews, NASCAR and Goodyear will both have a lot more work to do in order to make this a reality.
On top of that, race procedures would need to be determined as well, including whether or not officials would mandate teams start on wet-weather tires after inclement weather, or if they would leave it up to the teams.
While wet-weather tires likely won’t be making an impact on the sport this season, fans can take solace in the fact that this test produced far superior results to similar tests NASCAR has conducted in the past.
But if this test is any indication, it may not be too long before rain delays are far shorter than they’ve historically been.
Sports with Balls will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story.