As drivers test NASCAR’s Next Gen race car, it appears the new spec will make the sport more exciting and more competitive. But one Next Gen feature is causing a generational divide among the drivers: the rearview camera and screen. Younger NASCAR drivers say it improves visibility. Other drivers refuse to use the feature altogether.
Testing the Next Gen car at Daytona International Speedway
In September 2021, NASCAR ran the largest pack of Next Gen cars to date during a two-day test at Daytona International Speedway. As a result, the team designing the new race car amassed data on how the cars draft, how the new Goodyear tires perform, and how eight drivers feel about next year’s vehicle.
Driver response to the advanced new car was mostly positive. William Byron praised the steering, “You’re not moving the wheel as much, and the car is very responsive to everything.” Denny Hamlin added, “The shifting is going to be different, especially when you go into road courses.” Cole Custer concluded, “It’s pretty much rethinking the whole way we race.”
The Next Gen car owes its responsiveness to an all-new NASCAR transaxle–a combined transmission and rear axle unit–to better balance the vehicle’s weight. Independent rear suspension and eighteen-inch forged aluminum wheels further aid steering. The shifting is different because the new NASCAR transaxle is a five-speed (plus reverse) manual sequential transmission: The floor-mounted shift lever hinges backward to shift up one gear and forward to downshift. The drivers welcomed the technological improvements making their car more responsive, but one new feature divided them: The rearview camera.
NASCAR equipped all Next Gen prototypes with a rearview camera. The camera displays an image on a screen in the cockpit. The driver has the option to turn off the rearview camera and use a traditional mirror instead.
Does the Next Gen rearview camera increase visibility?
The younger NASCAR drivers seemed to like the rearview camera. Twenty-eight-year-old Chris Buescher said, “The rearview camera is something that is really neat…you can actually see quite a bit more than you’re used to.”
Buescher did more than just use his rearview camera: he took advantage of the Daytona testing to dial it in. He said, “I used the camera a lot, and the spotter up on the roof to learn where cars are and be able to start getting a gauge of how close they really are.” Buescher joked, “‘Objects in mirror are closer than they appear,’ it still applies to the camera, too.”
William Byron–driver of the #24–said, “The way my seat position was and everything, I couldn’t really see very well out of the real mirror on the top…I kind of used the rearview camera instead, the whole time.”
Byron, who is 23 years old, said about the new system he “felt like it was really good and accurate. You could see the spoiler, and it seemed like the refresh rate on the camera was pretty accurate.”
Does the Next Gen rearview camera’s in-car screen make drivers dizzy?
Not every driver was as quick to adopt the rearview camera. Veteran driver Denny Hamlin said of the rearview camera, “I didn’t run it.”
The 40-year-old explained, “For me personally, I have been in vehicles that have had a rearview camera…I didn’t like it. To me, it just kind of crosses my eyes, makes me a little dizzy when I look at it.”
Hamlin added that the visibility with the traditional mirror is poor; he said, “But the reason that we have those (rearview cameras) is because the visibility isn’t as good.”
Hamlin offered some suggestions to NASCAR, “I think that they can fix some things with the spoiler, bring the carbon fiber part of the spoiler down…that will certainly help with the vision.” He concluded, “I think the camera’s probably something that I really won’t explore.”
Hamlin has additional Next Gen concerns
Hamlin has been one of the most vocal drivers about NASCAR’s Next Gen cars. He has also said, “I can’t express how hot it was… it’s a big, big concern.” Hamlin is far from the first driver to warn NASCAR about the hot cabins of the NASCAR Next Gen cars.
Hamlin has also spoken out about the new car’s crash test ratings, calling on NASCAR to be more transparent. The NASCAR Next Gen cars’ crash tests have been an ongoing concern for drivers.
But NASCAR is listening to the veteran Hamlin. NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Innovation, John Probst, agreed, “We obviously have a list of things to work on.”
And for Hamlin’s part, the driver-owner is advocating for himself and other drivers but far from boycotting the new car. Hamlin said, “We’re gonna race it. So we’re all gonna have to get comfortable.” We’ll have to wait until the 2022 NASCAR season to find out whether that means Denny Hamlin will get comfortable with the new rearview camera.