NASCAR Next Generation Car: The Ultimate Guide

I have loved NASCAR for as long as I can remember. I will miss the old-style stock cars. But I truly believe the NASCAR Next Generation cars will make NASCAR racing more exciting. Find out everything I’ve learned about the new race car’s aerodynamics, engine, and transmission. Read the Next Gen Ultimate Guide a preview of the 2022 NACAR Cup season.

NASCAR Next Generation cars make a half-ton more downforce

NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin unveiling the Next Gen Toyota. This is our ultimate guide to the 725 horsepower engine, downforce improving aerodynamics, and transaxle transmission of the NASCAR Next Generation car. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin unveiling the Next Gen Toyota | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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Until 2021, every NASCAR team maintained separate cars for the oval tracks and road courses. But, with its Next Generation, NASCAR wanted one race car that could do both.

Aerodynamics defines Cup cars designed for the oval tracks. The entire right side of their body is a single, flat panel. This panel keeps the cars stable while turning left at high speeds. The Next Gen cars achieve similar stability with nearly one thousand pounds of additional downforce instead.

NASCAR engineers used several tricks to increase the downforce generated by the Next Gen cars. As you might guess, the Next Gen spoilers and the splitters beneath the grill are more aggressive. The new vehicles also have hood vents. After air exits the radiator, it flows over the windshield and the roof, pressing the car downward.

The full-length “underwing” revolutionizes NASCAR aerodynamics

This is a NASCAR promo photo of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro. This is our ultimate guide to the 725 horsepower engine, downforce improving aerodynamics, and transaxle transmission of the NASCAR Next Generation car. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
The Next Gen Camaro’s full-length underwing ends in a diffuser. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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You can increase downforce by pressing down on a car. However, you can also increase downforce by creating a vacuum beneath the car. This is why the Next Gen cars will feature NASCAR’s first full-length underwing. This aerodynamic element expels any air moving beneath the vehicle. 

The Next Gen underwing ends in a cluster of vertical fins called a diffuser. Engineers designed these fins to reduce turbulence behind the car. For this reason, it should be easier for drivers to pass one another.

There is a downside to downforce. With hundreds of pounds of added downforce, the Next Gen cars require much more power to move forward.

The NASCAR Next Generation engines: 725 horsepower

This is the NASCAR Next Gen Ford Mustang at the launch event. This is our ultimate guide to the 725 horsepower engine, downforce improving aerodynamics, and transaxle transmission of the NASCAR Next Generation car. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
The Next Gen Mustang, powered by a traditional NASCAR V8 | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The engines beneath NACAR Cup car hoods are electronically fuel-injected 358 cubic-inch (5.86 Liter) V8s. They use traditional (not overhead) cams, so pushrods operate their valves. This is why they are often called pushrod engines. The engines in the 2022 Next Gen cars will be identical to those used in the 2021 sixth-generation cars–with one significant difference. NASCAR Next Gen engines will be allowed to make hundreds more horsepower.

Every NASCAR V8 is built by a manufacturer (currently Ford, Chevrolet, or Toyota) and maintained by the racing team. They are theoretically capable of approximately 850 horsepower. But since a high-profile 1987 crash, NASCAR limited engines to about 410 horsepower. 

But it takes a lot of power to push a car forward when its body produces thousands of pounds of downforce. So because of the Next Gen car’s increased downforce, NASCAR will allow the teams more powerful engines.

Restrictor plates swapped for “tapered spacers”

William Byron's #24 Next Gen car in the garage at Daytona. This is our ultimate guide to the 725 horsepower engine, downforce improving aerodynamics, and transaxle transmission of the NASCAR Next Generation car. | James Gilbert/Getty Images
William Byron’s #24 Next Gen car in the garage at Daytona | James Gilbert/Getty Images

NASCAR uses a restrictor plate to limit the teams’ engines. This plate is a 1/8th-inch piece of aluminum mounted atop the intake manifold. It has four officially sized holes and limits the amount of air and gas flowing into the engine. 

For 2022, NASCAR engineers have also created “tapered spacers.” The spacers are one inch tall. Instead of straight-cut holes, they have funnels that increase flow into the engine.

Officials will tell the teams how aggressive an aerodynamics package to install at each track. Each package will correspond to the traditional 410 horsepower restrictor plate, a 550 horsepower tapered spacer, or a 725 horsepower tapered spacer.

Despite all the major changes to downforce and horsepower, the NASCAR Next Generation cars are almost exactly the same speed as the sixth-gen cars. After a Daytona drafting test with a pack of Next Gen cars, William Byron said his lap times were “within a second or two” of the outgoing cars.

You can find out more about the Next Gen engines. Or you can read on to find out about the radical new transmissions. 

Next Generation Cars shift with a Corvette-style transaxle

Chris Buescher's #17 Next Gen car in the Daytona pits. This is our ultimate guide to the 725 horsepower engine, downforce improving aerodynamics, and transaxle transmission of the NASCAR Next Generation car. | James Gilbert/Getty Images
Chris Buescher’s #17 Next Gen car in the Daytona pits | James Gilbert/Getty Images

In the NASCAR Next Generation car, the transmission and rear axle are combined into a single unit. There are several reasons engineers changed the drivetrain layout. But here’s the rub: the full-body underwing would not fit under the traditional, solid rear axle. For aerodynamic purposes, the Cup car drivetrain needed to change and NASCAR chose a transaxle.

Combining the transmission and rear differential reduces the overall weight of a race car. Moving the transmission to the back of the vehicle better balances your drivetrain weight front-to-back. Without a transmission at the front of a car, you can move your engine back and reduce weight on the front wheels. Overall, a front-engine, rear-transaxle sports car handles very well. For this reason, Chevrolet has used this layout for the last three generations of the Corvette. Racing is catching up to tried-and-true sportscar technology with the NASCAR’s Corvette-style transaxle.

The Next Gen car has three pedals and a floor-mounted shift lever. But instead of an H-pattern, the shifter only moves forward and backward. The new shifter is similar to a “ratchet” shifter used in drag racing. Drivers can pull the lever back to shift up and push it forward to shift down. The new transaxle transmission has five forward gears and one reverse gear. You can dive into the Next Gen transmissions if you want more details.

The NASCAR Next Generation Cars: more “stock” than current stock cars

Watch a pack of Next Gen cars during drafting tests at Daytona

NASCAR Cup cars are very different than the stock cars they represent. Unlike Mustangs, Camrys, and Camaros, these race cars are just thin bodies mounted on space frame chassis. That said, the Next Gen cars are closer to “stock” than the sixth-generation cars.

For example, the Mustang, Camaro, and Camry have ridden on independent rear suspension for years. The Next Gen car finally brings independent rear suspension to NASCAR. 

You can’t order the Mustang, Camaro, or Camry with fifteen-inch steel rims. The Next Gen car also rides on modern, eighteen-inch forged aluminum rims. 

Finally, the Next Gen car has a symmetrical body. Overall, the new race car will handle much more like a modern muscle car. The NASCAR Next Generation car is closer to a “stock” car. You might even say NASCAR is returning to its roots.

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