CONCORD, N.C. — The sights and sounds surrounding Charlotte Motor Speedway Monday morning, afternoon and evening brought that all-too-familiar feeling. It’s the feel of a looming NASCAR season, and, in particular, the dawn of getting back into a routine. Such was the case for NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers on Jan. 30.
The driver practice sessions around the 1.5-mile track served another purpose, too. More specifically, a mechanical one — competition officials changed the rear-end housing on Xfinity cars to eliminate skew. A skew that creates “crabbing” can lead to cars running at an angle that gives the illusion the car is moving diagonally.
Sammy Smith, who will drive full-time behind the wheel of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in 2023, discussed his initial thoughts following the test. Over a nine-race run in the circuit last season, Smith finished his Xfinity campaign with one top-five and three top-10 finishes.
“Honestly, right now, we are kind of running through some stuff with what they want to do package-wise,” Smith said. “So, you can‘t feel it a ton, just because they‘ve compensated so much for what they‘ve taken away from skews, so you can definitely feel a little bit on entry, but obviously, the teams are good enough to work around that.”
As part-time driver of the No. 24 Sam Hunt Racing Toyota, Connor Mosack had the opportunity to not only get a feel for the changes but additionally, compare his car to others on a 1.5-mile oval. Mosack raced on two road courses during the 2022 Xfinity season (Portland International Raceway and Watkins Glen International).
One main objective was finding value in seeing how his car can handle all facets.
“We’ve got a competitive car,” Mosack said. “We‘re right there with the JGR cars, and we‘re on similar tire strategies, so I think the car is more than capable of helping me learn, and we can be competitive in it.”
After his first full-time season in the Xfinity Series last year, Austin Hill offered technical differences during the test run, including the difference in throttling and corner entry.
“As I get into the cross center of the corner, I feel like last year I could kind of like lean into the right rear tire a little bit more and kind of yaw it out and be able to pick up throttle and drive off the right rear,” Hill said. “So far in the test this year, as I pick up throttle, it kind of just gets the right rear out of the race track and kind of loses lateral grip. I just don‘t feel like I have that stability to kind of lean on the right rear tires.
“I guess that‘s my biggest takeaway right now, but like I said, we‘re trying a lot of different things. There‘s a lot of stuff that we have on our test plan that we just kind of work out.”
Despite Mother Nature being an initial hindrance to Monday’s session, drivers found importance in getting lengthy practice runs in before the season.
“It‘s huge,” Mosack said. “I think there‘s only a few races we get a full hour of practice, which still isn‘t much, especially at a track I haven‘t been to before, so taking advantage of something like this and getting as many laps as I can is a huge help.”
“You can try different things as a driver,” Hill said. “This race track, in particular, I kind of struggle at, so there‘s things that I‘ve been trying as I go out on the race track, and you got all the data to kind of go back and look at and see, ‘All right, with that lap I was driving in deeper, and that‘s kind of probably why I was getting really tight across the middle,‘ or, ‘Maybe that lap I shallowed up my entry, and that‘s why I kind of got tight across the middle or got loose on entry because I tried to lift early,‘ or whatever the case may be. So, there‘s just a lot of data you can kind of go back and look at and just try to learn from, and I think that‘s gonna help us better going into the season.”