CONCORD, N.C. — Like bees swarming a hive, mechanics and engineers alike encircled Austin Dillon’s wrecked No. 3 Chevrolet once dropped off by the tow truck in the garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Personnel from multiple teams, manufacturers and NASCAR itself buzzed about with camera phones in hand, trying to pinpoint and capture areas of impact for further examination and evaluation. Everyone wanted intel.
That was the whole purpose of Wednesday’s Next Gen test, which will continue Thursday.
“When the incident happened, we actually left our spot in The Speedway Club and drove over there,” said John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation. “We talked to the first responders. They said (Dillon) was already out of the car. Then we went to see him in the infield care center. He had already been released before we could get there.
“So, yeah, it was a really good feeling knowing that the car performed as designed. Looking at the front bumper on it, looked like it crushed the way it was designed to do.”
Within the first 20 minutes of the 11-hour session that began at 9 a.m. ET, Dillon’s car hit the outside wall in Turn 2 before sliding down the track into the inside wall. The left front sustained the most damage, as the Next Gen’s composite body crumpled upon initial contact. NASCAR described the force as “an above-average impact” after analyzing data.
Dillon was present in the garage but not made available for interviews. He later posted an update on Instagram.
“Talking with him, he felt like it wasn’t anything different than what he’s felt in the past,” Probst said, “so I think that was certainly a good reference point.”
Dillon, entering his ninth full-time season with Richard Childress Racing, stopped by the empty No. 3 stall before going to see his Chevy almost 40 minutes after the on-track accident. He briefly chatted with reigning champion Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus. Dillon hung around for more than 10 minutes before he headed atop his hauler.
Larson and Knaus were just some of the many folks to wander by. When the car first arrived, drivers such as Denny Hamlin (a Toyota wheelman), Daniel Suarez (Chevrolet), Michael McDowell (Ford) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Chevrolet) stopped by for examination. Hendrick crew chief Alan Gustafson took a look for fellow Chevy insight.
RCR actually had the ability to take the car back to its shop and rebuild the exact same one to continue testing. A crew left before 11 a.m. ET. The face of the vehicle had already been ripped off by the time it left – hood, bumper and any exterior all removed. Select impacted internal parts and pieces were also separated.
“One of the design criteria that we put into the car was to have the front clip be able to be replaced,” Probst said. “And they were able to do that this afternoon and that car is on the way back here or will be shortly.”
The car returned around 7 p.m. ET. Dillon was back on track with an hour to spare. All in all, RCR replaced the left-front quarter panel, the tail, front fascia, hood, splitter, front clip, engine and front suspension.
Findings from Dillon’s car wreck and revival could potentially benefit the sport overall as Next Gen developments continue in preparation of its competitive debut Feb. 6 in the 2022 Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“We don’t ever like to see them crash,” Probst said. “But we felt like the car performed very well.”