The first-day-of-school feel to preseason NASCAR Cup Series testing at Daytona International Speedway had some element of a class reunion. There was plenty of new – new car, new superspeedway rules package, new faces in new places — intertwined with a handful of throwbacks.
There was Dale Earnhardt Jr. back in a fire suit, sharing an extended chat with NASCAR President Steve Phelps before clambering into the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Just a few stalls over in the garage was 50-year-old Jacques Villeneuve, the former Formula One world champion whose last Cup Series start came in 2013.
Cup Series officials organized a 10-lap group run two hours into the opening-day session to get a better feel for the aerodynamic draft, this one 16 cars strong – twice the number of teams that formed a Daytona pack here last September,and Next Gen’s largest representation yet in superspeedway-style racing.
The speeds and the car’s performance in the multi-car group led NASCAR officials to confirm the superspeedway configuration for 2022 – an engine-output target of 510 horsepower combined with a 7-inch rear spoiler to keep speeds in check.
That rules setup will be used at Daytona and sister track Talladega Superspeedway (2.66 miles) as has been the tradition for NASCAR’s largest and fastest ovals. But competition officials also formalized the newly redesigned Atlanta Motor Speedway will be on that short list this season when it returns to the schedule with fresh pavement and steeper 28-degree banking, up from the previous 24-degree tilt. Three teams used the same 510-horsepower, 7-inch spoiler configuration during a Goodyear tire test at Atlanta last week, and the setup will get its first points-paying test in the annual Great American Race.