Ever since NASCAR formally detailed a timeline for its next-generation Cup car on February 4, the industry has spoken about Gen-7 in terms of the engine and body package, but what if there were more to it?
During a series of manufacturer-related press conferences on Friday at Daytona International Speedway, team owner Roger Penske suggested that Gen-7 transcends the car (slated for a 2021 debut) and is instead a vision for the entire sport.
Led by new chairman Jim France, NASCAR has already provided insight for what it wants the next-generation racing platform to look like. It includes lower-horsepower engines, and cars that have even greater visual showroom similarities to production cars than the sixth-generation shell, which returned to its showroom roots after the letdown of the common template Car of Tomorrow.
But Penske says Gen-7 also refers to the future of series schedules, replete with more short tracks and road courses, in addition to shorter races and a shorter overall schedule.
He says Gen-7 represents the beginning of a new NASCAR.
"I think we're really talking about Gen-7 for NASCAR and not just the car or engine," Penske said. "I think it's the show. It's the length of the races. It's where we're going to run. Are we going to run more races at night? Short tracks? Let's call it Gen-7 for NASCAR and not just the car."
Toyota group vice president Ed Laukes said he agreed with Penske, emphasizing the need for more action-packed races with a car that better represents the individual OEMs.
"I think Roger is right on, and actually Roger and I have talked about it, too, the same thing," Laukes said. "The Gen-7 is not just about a car, and it's not necessarily just about a driver. It's about expanding and going to a more grassroots level with NASCAR, and returning to where we started to get to where we want to go into the future."
NASCAR met with team owners on Friday morning, with an agenda that included shortening both the length of races and the entire season-long schedule. Jack Roush said the group has been receptive to those concepts.
"We have to keep (fans) engaged," Roush said. "We have to think about their attention spans. The races may need to get shorter. That could be cost savings… People say we need to race fewer times. I'm not sure that's true.
"I used to tell (ex-NASCAR president) Mike Helton, if he had three or four races a week, I'd be there for him. I don't know if I'd say that today, but… Anyway, keeping it exciting for the fans, individual decisions we make that will keep them engaged, keep news or surprises coming within their attention span is very important."
Bob Leavine, of Leavine Family Racing, wants fewer intermediate tracks on future schedules.
"Personally I would like to see more short tracks and a little more road courses, just to break it up," Leavine said. "That happens to be a couple of my favorites. I know NASCAR is moving in the right direction to change things, and we have to change with it…
"I don't know that I've got a preference of how many races, whatever it is. I know they're working towards some cost savings for us and that's always appreciated."
NASCAR president Steve Phelps has suggested that all of these things are in play.
"We’ve heard from our fan base that they would like to see more short-track racing. They want to see more road courses. They want to see less cookie-cutter tracks, whatever that means," he said back in November during a season-ending press conference.
"I think that we are working with our broadcast partners and with our tracks and with our teams and drivers to get input on what each of them believes would be an ideal schedule, and then we’re obviously doing fan research as part of it… Will we see a lot of the things that have been talked about, so more short tracks, more road courses, doubleheaders, midweek racing, pulling the season forward? All those things would be in play."
NASCAR vice president of competition and racing development, Steve O'Donnell, has said that the new engine-body combination will be an extension of the 2019 rules package that includes reduced horsepower and greater downforce on tracks longer than a mile.
Both Phelps and O'Donnell have suggested that these changes are appealing to new OEMs, too.
"So what we’ve done is spent the better part of a year putting together a Gen-7 model," O'Donnell said during a media briefing earlier this month in Charlotte. "We’re in the process now of going out and talking to OEMs, talking in the industry and getting their feedback on what they like and what they may want to see tweaked, but the goal for us is to roll this out fairly quickly with an accelerated timeline to 2021, but again this rules package — particularly the engine horsepower — allows us to have some discussion around a more relevant engine that aligns around the 2021 package."
And it appears, based on Friday at Daytona, that the Gen-7 vision also includes future schedules and race lengths.
Joe Gibbs admitted on Friday that NASCAR has recently hit some hard times, but he also believes that it has forced the industry to look in the mirror and make radical decisions it wouldn't have made otherwise, and that excites him.
"You know, there's times that you struggle, and I think we have struggled some, but I honestly think Jim France is on board and is getting after it," Gibbs said. "I think we, having constant meetings with everybody and that has put everything on the table…
"We've got a great fan base, but I think everything is really out there, scheduling, everything that you're talking about, cost savings, everything is on the table. And so sometimes when you go through a tough time, those wind up being the best of times because it causes you to really think your way through things.
"I'm excited about our sport."
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