NASCAR official addresses Next Gen issues at Bristol

A top NASCAR competition official on Tuesday addressed the level of attrition during Saturday night’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, providing context around some of the power-steering issues at the short track, how single-source parts were chosen and adding that there remains a learning curve with the Next Gen car.

Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, made his remarks during a Tuesday morning appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. His comments came three days after Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at the 0.533-mile Tennessee track, where the playoff-eligible field was trimmed from 16 to 12 drivers.

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Eight of the 36 drivers were not running at the finish of the 500-lap event. Three of the six Toyota teams experienced issues with power-steering failure, and a fourth – the No. 18 of Kyle Busch – was sidelined by engine trouble. Those problems, which were compounded by tire issues on the high-banked concrete layout, prompted criticism from several drivers about the design of the Next Gen racer, which made its debut in the Cup Series this season.

Miller answered those Tuesday, borrowing a phrase used by Kevin Harvick at Darlington and parroted Saturday night by Martin Truex Jr., Bristol’s last-place finisher after power-steering woes.

“Bristol is definitely a unique load case, and some things cropped up with the steering that weren’t expected,” Miller told SiriusXM. “But honestly, no excuse, but, you know, with the newness of this car and the newness of everything, I think that it’s not acceptable to have problems, but it’s probably part of the learning process for us all. All the teams and OEMs were involved in the RFP (request for proposal) process when we chose the parts so, everybody’s got a stake in this, and it’s not just NASCAR choosing quote-unquote crappy parts.”

Miller said that competition officials had a meeting scheduled Tuesday morning with Goodyear representatives to debrief about their findings at Bristol. As for any other reliability concerns, Miller indicated that his department at the Research & Development Center was busy seeking fixes.

“Well, with every part of this car actually being a new part and a new design, I think historically, in racing and in any walk of life, when you do something completely new with a departure, there’s a learning curve,” Miller said. “So we’re in that learning curve, and, you know, working really hard to make sure that everything works. And I think for the most part, it has. We did have some steering issues at Bristol. That is, again, a part that was chosen through the RFP process, and it is team serviceable. So you know, that’s where we are right now. Are we looking to improve on when we have problems? We absolutely 100% are, every single day.”

In other topics discussed Tuesday:

Miller addressed questions about caution flags and the timing of them, reiterating that each instance of contact or on-track trouble is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“Every incident is unique. Every visual that we have on an incident is also unique,” Miller said. “We don’t have 36 sets of eyes glued to each and every car. We have a bunch of us up there that kind of act as spotters. We don’t always see the beginning of an incident, and we have to point that out. Whoever sees it points it out to the race director. The race director analyzes the situation as he sees it and puts the caution out at his discretion on what he sees.

“Now, we don’t have the ability to go obviously watch replays and watch the incident. Cautions are pretty … you know they’re a quick call, and there’s going to be some judgment in those, no matter how you look at it. So it’s, I would love to say that … I would love to be able to define what creates a caution and what doesn’t, but it’s impossible because everything is … every incident is completely different from the last one, and completely different from the next one.”

Miller also offered a preview of Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, USA, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM) at Texas Motor Speedway. The race opens the Round of 12 in the Cup Series Playoffs.

Miller indicated that the 1.5-mile track’s asphalt surface would be treated with a resin and that rubber would be applied with a “Tire Dragon” in an effort to widen the racing groove.

“It will be resin and Tire Dragon at the beginning of the weekend, and we’ll leave it,” Miller said. “We’re also going to probably go a lane or so higher in (turns) three and four, just to try to give a little bit more racing room over there. It may not turn into racing room, but if they do slip out of the groove, at least there’ll be something there to grab a hold of. So that’s what we’re doing for the weekend.”