According to a report from NASCAR, Friday night’s Virginia 529 College Savings 250 race was the first event in a three-race audition this year for flange-fit, composite-body cars. NASCAR says the new bodies, assembled with 13 bolt-on panels, have the potential to streamline car-building efforts, offer convenience in repairs and provide anti-tampering safeguards as a deterrence for rule-benders. The overall long-term goal of the switch from steel-bodied to composite construction is to reduce time and cost for teams competing in the series.

Aside from the capability for time and cost convenience, the new body panels have tinker-proof features in the most aerodynamic-dependent areas. That aspect, according to crew chief Phil Gould, has the potential to reduce the amount of necessary wind-tunnel time, a premium expense. Steve de Souza, Joe Gibbs Racing’s executive vice president of Xfinity and development, expects the rollout to go reasonably well.

De Souza says Joe Gibbs Racing has taken the new composite body to the wind tunnel. As for a comparison to the steel bodied cars, de Souza says the composites are pretty close in terms of aerodynamics.

“The first time you do it, you’re trying to figure it all out, how all the parts and pieces work together,” de Souza told motorsport.com. “The more you work with it, the more, I won’t say shortcuts, but the easier it is to work with you kind of have a strategy and how to optimize it and assembly over time and efficiencies and things like that. I don’t know how many we’ve built now. I think three — and there’s more work going on. But I’m going to say by the time we do nine, 12 of them we’re going to be better than when we built three or four of them.”

The bodies will also be an option for two races in mile-long tracks in Dover (Sept. 30) and Phoenix (Nov. 11). NASCAR has offered the choice for crews to continue with sheet metal until the end of 2018. By 2019, however, NASCAR hopes to make the flange-fit composite bodies mandatory. De Souza notes, however, that there may be obstacles along the way, such as how to achieve part consistency in a sport that may not be accustomed to composites.

“NASCAR has done a good job, but you’re looking for parity with the other manufacturers,” de Souza said. “They’re all going to have composite cars, too. It’s not really about how it matches up with your steel car — because everyone’s going to have a new composite car. So how does that look?”