Why fewer NASCAR drivers racing Rolex 24? Next Gen car surprisingly a limiting factor

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Styled, created and developed with lots of attributes of cars, the brand-new Next Gen would appear the motivation for NASCAR Cup motorists gathering to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Rather, the advanced brand-new design appears among the main factors that lots of Cup veterans shelved their hopes of racing in the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Automobile Champion Series season opener, which will happen Jan. 29-30 on the Daytona International Speedway roadway course.

In 2015, the Rolex 24 consisted of 3 motorists who had actually raced full-time in Cup the previous season: Chase Elliott (who co-drove in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac that would win the 2021 champion), Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon (who made his launching in LMP2).

Johnson is back with the No. 48 Ally Cadillac of Action Express — however this time as one of 12 full-time IndyCar motorists in the field.

INFO FOR THE 60TH ROLEX 24: Schedules, begin times, entry lists

ON THE LEAD: Wayne Taylor Racing wins certifying race

The only Cup chauffeur in the 2022 Rolex 24 is Austin Cindric (who belongs to the No. 15 Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GTD Pro classification) regardless of a boost of 12 vehicles – and a minimum of 3 lots more seats – from the 2021 entry list.

Why the dip in NASCAR involvement regardless of the increase in chance?

Action Express basic supervisor Gary Nelson stated he brought up the concept of going back to the No. 31 Cadillac with Elliott, the acknowledged finest roadway racer in NASCAR, and the group likewise had conversations with other Cup motorists.

In spite of a great deal of interest, Nelson stated motorists were not able to devote to squeezing in a December test at Daytona, hours of preparation in the simulator and investing the last 2 weekends of January in Daytona (recently’s Holler prior to the Rolex 24 precedes the centerpiece and is necessary for being competitive).

As the Next Gen has actually gone through unanticipated adjustments, there currently have actually been offseason tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway with another important session today at Phoenix Raceway. The cars and truck will make its race launching Feb. 6 in The Clash on a momentary quarter-mile oval at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the very first time NASCAR has actually held its preseason exhibit occasion on the West Coast.

“I think the Next Gen car was a big factor, and the Coliseum race coming up so quick,” Nelson informed NBC Sports. “The NASCAR drivers that I’ve talked to, and I did talk to Chase about his thoughts of coming here, and I think those two things were pretty much the focus. They felt like they needed to have to get a championship season going with the new Next Gen NASCAR car, and the early season race in February at the L.A. Coliseum. It was hard to balance that schedule with the Rolex 24.”

<em>Austin Cindric will drive the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the Rolex 24.</em>

Austin Cindric will drive the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the Rolex 24.

Cindric, who began his profession in cars and was headed towards a full-time IMSA profession prior to detouring to NASCAR 5 years back, stated he talked with a number of Cup motorists checking out the Rolex 24. They were stymied by either logistics, scheduling or simply getting a foot in the door.

Though the Group Penske chauffeur had actually wished to race versus his stock-car peers this month at Daytona, he isn’t amazed to be the only NASCAR agent.

“I know how hard it is to get in the race no matter what your situation or status is,” Cindric stated. “There are a lot of really, really talented drivers that aren’t in the race that aren’t NASCAR drivers that probably have more on their resume that would make them valuable to a team, but it is challenging because there’s a lot more than just being a good driver that gets you a seat in a race car.

“That’s the reality of the sport and it’s frustrating, but at the same time, I know there are plenty of Cup drivers that did try and make the race or understand what it would take to do so. But I think my relationships within that world certainly keep eyes on me as far as what I do in the NASCAR spectrum.

“There are a lot of people I’ve worked with – probably half of the race teams that are down there that know me — so it’s about relationships just like anything else.”

Cindric will have some NASCAR business this Friday at Daytona while racing a Mustang GT4 in the Michelin Pilot Difficulty, an IMSA assistance series. Wood Brothers Racing Cup novice Harrison Burton and 2021 novice of the year Chase Briscoe of Stewart-Haas Racing likewise will remain in the race, along with Hailie Deegan.

“I’m excited to see how much it drives like a Next Gen car and see what I can take away from it this time,” stated Briscoe, who likewise teamed with Deegan in case 3 years back. “Whether that’s things I can do as a race car driver or even things the team might change for setups or adjustments that I can take back to the Cup side and tell our Cup team to maybe try on a road course weekend.”

The possibility of additional laps in a cars and truck with comparable functions likewise is attracting to Burton, who is dealing with a high knowing curve as lots of Cup novices because NASCAR started restricting practice throughout the pandemic.

“The Next Gen car is gonna kind of perform a little bit more similar to this car will, so that’s gonna be a good thing for me to kind of get in the mindset,” Burton stated. “The biggest thing I’m looking for is learning the braking capability of a new car. I’ve never sat in this car before and I’m gonna have to show up and race against some really, really talented race car drivers and go try and beat them.

<em>Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton will co-drive the No. 41 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Daytona (IMSA).</em>

Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton will co-drive the No. 41 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Daytona (IMSA).

“That’s kind of what I’m going to do all year is show up in a series I have never competed in with a bunch of guys that I don’t normally race against in a new car and go try and beat them. So just being used to change, being comfortable being uncomfortable, that’s one of the biggest things I look forward to kind of taking away from this and just learning basic road course techniques.”

Briscoe likewise is amongst a number of NASCAR motorists who likewise just recently raced the Chili Bowl, compressing a currently brief offseason that is more busy since of the Next Gen.

Johnson believes that’s another factor for restricted involvement. The seven-time Cup Series promote raced in the Rolex 24 7 times from 2004-11 and after that took a break for his last 9 seasons in NASCAR.

“The Cup schedule is just so intense,” Johnson informed NBC Sports. “And January is really your only month to have for yourself. That’s why I had that big gap. So I put a lot more weight in a 38-race schedule on top of a new car being debuted in NASCAR and all the testing that’s going with that. I just think a lot of guys are trying to have a couple of weekends home.”

Johnson likewise stated the extremely competitive level of the Rolex 24, which draws star roadway racers and producers from around the globe, can be frightening.

“Chase came and had a great time last year, but he was caught off guard just how different these cars are,” Johnson stated. “Chase had been winning a lot of road course races, so I imagine that sent a signal back through the Cup garage about trying to come here and moonlight in the IMSA Series.”

Three-time safeguarding Rolex 24 cars and truck owner Wayne Taylor had Kurt Busch in among his models for the 2008 Rolex 24 and won in 2017 with a lineup that consisted of Jeff Gordon coming out of retirement. However Taylor stated “there’s really nobody else) in NASCAR he’s considered while employing Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon over the years.

“Well, IndyCar guys I can understand because they’re road racers, and they understand about setup on road courses and stuff, whereas I think it’s difficult to find that in a NASCAR driver,” Taylor informed NBC Sports. “You’d need a Jeff Gordon-type guy. Kurt Busch did a good job, but we did a lot of testing beforehand.”

NASCAR drivers Rolex 24

Kyle Busch drove the No. 14 Lexus RC-F GT3 for Jimmy Vaser’s GTD team during the 2020 Rolex 24 (IMSA).

Though he was impressed by the ability of two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch as a GTD teammate in the 2020 Rolex, IndyCar on NBC analyst Townsend Bell stated lack of experience is a major hindrance. Though he has won three Supercars championships as an elite road racer, Penske IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin has been unable to land a ride for the Rolex.

“That’s what is shocking to me,” Bell informed NBC Sports. “McLaughlin is so talented and so proven in a tin-top car. The absolute best of the best coming out of V8s, which we know is incredibly competitive. But he doesn’t have Daytona experience. He doesn’t have GT3 experience with traction control and ABS and all that. Not that he couldn’t figure it out. But I think for the team owners in (IMSA), they go with proven guys. It really has to do with the people that have sports car experience that are the known quantities are the first chosen.

“Even when Kyle Busch came into our team, it’s not easy. You’ve got three teammates, limited track time, trying to figure all this out. Then it’s time to go race, and even for Kyle, I think he’d say it was probably a little harder than expected to get dialed in, even in the GTD class. I think experience counts for a lot.”

There are five active Cup race champions with Rolex 24 experience. In addition to Elliott, Kurt and Kyle Busch, defending series champion Kyle Larson has three Rolex 24 starts with Chip Ganassi Racing (including the overall victory in 2015). Kevin Harvick raced a Corvette in the 2002 opener at Daytona.

During a Next Gen test last October on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, several more Cup drivers expressed an interest in the Rolex 24 and other IMSA races to help hone their skills.

With an independent rear suspension, a lower profile tire, sequential shifters and rack and pinion steering, the Next Gen will have more in common than sports cars than any point in NASCAR’s history. “I’d love to sign up for more races,” Joey Logano said. “I think our cars are still heavier and probably less downforce, but it definitely probably takes us halfway to what those (sports) cars are. I think the most laps you make the better, especially these days where you don’t get any practice anymore.”

“Your Trans-Am and IMSA racing would lead you to a better path now, especially on the road courses,” Ty Dillon said. “It probably should be more on my radar.”

With a background nearly exclusively in Late Models, William Byron said he wants to branch out but first plans to evaluate how he does in a national go-kart race this month against IndyCar champions Will Power and Josef Newgarden. “I want to see how that goes, and if I’m fast in that, maybe I’ll be decent in a sports car,” Byron said.

Said Hendrick Motorsports driver teammate Alex Bowman: “For sure, I’d love to run some sports car stuff. Looking at my road racing skills, I don’t know a sports car team that would be like, ‘Yeah, let’s get him in a car!’ ”

<em>The No. 15: Proton USA Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Dirk Mueller, Patrick Assenheimer and Austin Cindric will start fifth in the GTD Pro class of the 60th Rolex 24 (IMSA).</em>

The No. 15: Proton USA Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Dirk Mueller, Patrick Assenheimer and Austin Cindric will start fifth in the GTD Pro class of the 60th Rolex 24 (IMSA).

Earning a job on merit might be what Cindric is most proud of in making his fourth Rolex 24 start.

He regularly wore out his cell phone battery to land the Proton USA ride that will group him with Dirk Mueller (a 2017 Rolex 24 winner with Chip Ganassi Racing in the GT class) and Patrick Assenheimer, an accomplished veteran of the Nürburgring and other European tracks.

“Being in GTD Pro, you look at the entry list and my jaw kind of dropped, so I’m excited for that challenge,” stated Cindric, whose previous best GTD finish was fifth in ’19. “That’s why I’m so excited about this Rolex probably more than any other one I’ve competed in because if you’re doing something in that class, that means you’re good because you’re going to beat the best. It’s the same mentality that I’m probably gonna have to take away to bring to the Cup Series this year. There are no excuses, no external factors. Everybody is good, so if you’re doing something, it’s because you’ve earned it as a team or as a driver.

“I have a very strong desire to win the Rolex 24 and that’s my motivating factor to do this race. I’ve worked really hard every offseason to try and make something happen, not to get in a five-driver lineup just to go do the race and experience it. I’ve kind of done all that. The Rolex is probably the most realistic race I can look at and say I would like to win that race, and I think this is a great opportunity for me to do that or at least establish my capabilities to do so against a group of drivers that are incredibly talented and incredibly experienced.”

Why fewer NASCAR motorists racing Rolex 24? Next Gen cars and truck remarkably a restricting aspect initially appeared on NBCSports.com

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.