Larson, who clinched the 2021 Cup Series title with victory in the 2021 season finale at Phoenix, led the way in average lap speed (131.728 mph) on the first day of a scheduled two-day test at the track on Tuesday.
The Next Gen car is a wholesale change from NASCAR cars of years past, but Larson found his first day testing not totally out of place ahead of its first race, the non-championship Clash event at the LA Coliseum on 6 February.
“As far as me driving the car, I was surprised it didn’t seem that much different here than the previous car,” Larson explained.
“The steering was maybe a little bit quicker, just the little things all seemed to happen a little quicker. The moments when you got loose – stuff like that.
“Other than that, it felt fairly normal which I was happy about. My balance didn’t seem to change as much – I didn’t seem to get as tight in the centre [of the corner], which is good.
“We need to work on our brakes. The brake pedal continued to travel further and further as the runs went on. That wasn’t a comforting feeling, but we’re going to try some stuff tomorrow to make it better.”
Speeds in the Phoenix test were down slightly from last year’s championship race as the Next Gen car is utilising a 670-horsepower package at all tracks with the exception of superspeedways and the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Last year’s package at Phoenix consisted of 750-horsepower, with Brad Keselowski leading the final Cup Series practice at 135.384 mph.
NASCAR teams have been getting final test runs in at Phoenix before racing begins next month
Photo by: Jim Utter
This week’s test at Phoenix is being directed by each team’s agenda. Having settled on a racing package for the 2022 season, NASCAR has been more of a spectator.
Larson said his #5 Hendrick Motorsports team has been taking full advantage of the opportunity to try new things.
“We’re just trying to learn as much as we can, even if it’s wrong changes; changes that you know won’t be in the right direction,” he said.
“You’re making them to try to learn going forward.
“I was happy with how today went. It thought it was a smooth day and I thought we did a good job with the changes that we made and learned a lot of stuff. I look forward to getting the series started.”
With Phoenix being the last scheduled test of the Next Gen car in the offseason, Larson said his Hendrick team was “ready to race” and confident of being competitive from the off.
He added that his extensive background in all types of racing – including dirt track racing on short ovals – has led him to be much more flexible when it comes to changes.
“I feel like I adjust quickly to new cars and new situations,” he said.
“Just from my experience in all kinds of cars, I don’t know that I have any ‘habits,’ bad or otherwise. I’m trying to learn new things every week.”