NASCAR is testing a new car design scheduled to debut in its top-tier Cup Series in 2021, which would replace the sixth-generation race car that’s been run since 2013. In trying to get with the times, NASCAR is also testing a new transmission—a sequential in place of its long-run four-speed manual.
Cup Series driver Erik Jones was testing the new car this week at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway, and posted a video to Twitter confirming that a sequential, not the usual four-speed manual, was in the car for his test.
Jones said adjusting to the sequential was a challenge but would have its advantages on track, via NASCAR.com:
“I’ve never done anything other than normal H-pattern shifting in my career,” said Jones, who has been full time in the Cup Series since 2017. “You can bang right through the gears; we did a restart at the end of the day (Wednesday) and it was fun learning about that and how you can push that gear box. That really gets you excited for the road courses and what it’s going to be capable of there.”
Outside of NASCAR, four-speed manuals are pretty much unheard of. We live in an era of 10-speed automatics and seven-speed manuals, where we laugh at the Dodge Journey for using a four-speed automatic. Still, the NASCAR transmission is simple, strong and charmingly antiquated on the surface—and like Jones said, an H-pattern shifter is all drivers like him know.
But with this sequential testing, the H-pattern’s time may soon be over in the highest level of NASCAR. Jalopnik has asked NASCAR if other transmission types will be tested or if any official decision has been made on the sequential for 2021 yet, and will update this story if we hear back.
The car Jones was in, which NASCAR is calling the “next gen,” has been tested by Cup Series drivers three known times: at Richmond Raceway with Austin Dillon in October, at Phoenix Raceway with Joey Logano in December, and this week with Jones in Miami. We’d previously seen a photo showing a sequential shifter in the car Logano tested last month, and friend of Jalopnik Bozi Tatarevic wrote what he’d learned about the tested six-speed sequential transmission for Hagerty soon after.
Potentially moving to a sequential transmission falls into the “modernization” category NASCAR seems to be exploring lately, including talks of hybrid power as soon as 2022. But NASCAR wouldn’t talk about the shifter or other details of the 2021 car when the Hagerty story published in December, telling Hagerty that although it has “made an incredible amount of progress” on the car, there were “many specifics” NASCAR would keep quiet until the appropriate time.
The appropriate time for the sequential must be now, since Jones’ Twitter video confirms to us that the transmission has appeared in more than one test of the 2021 car. That doesn’t solidify its place in 2021, but does mean that NASCAR’s taking it into serious consideration.
So send some positive vibes for NASCAR’s old-school manual, because NASCAR without it is a strange NASCAR to comprehend.
Update: Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 at 3:15 p.m. ET: A NASCAR spokesperson said the sanctioning body isn’t “getting into specifics on any systems or components” at this time, thus could not confirm or deny anything.