Hard racing often led to trouble in 2022 (Getty Images)
It seemed as if many of the 36 points-paying races and two exhibition races held on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule had at least one incident that created a talking point over the course of the next week. And more often than not, those incidents were the result of aggressive moves made by one driver against another.
It’s not that there haven’t been aggressive moves in the past history of NASCAR that have caused wrecks, but it does feel like those mishaps occurred at a higher rate than ever before this past season. Or perhaps, they get discussed more by the various shows, podcasts and social media sites than was once the case. Maybe it’s just that followers of the sport are more aware of all that goes on in the sport, including aggressive driving, than was the case a few years ago.
Like it or not, followers of the sport might as well get used to it because that style of driving is almost certainly here to stay. Where years ago many drivers employed the strategy of being patient and staying out of trouble until the late stages of the race, that is not really an option anymore. Every position during the entire race matters nowadays, especially with stage points and playoff points to be earned throughout the course of each race.
It isn’t just the stage points and playoff points that cause drivers to race hard for every lap. Every position lost is a position difficult to regain. Considering that with the Next Gen everyone is essentially driving the same car and running basically the same speed, gaining positions has to be done on pit road or by moving the car in front out of the way.
Since NASCAR introduced its current Playoffs system, the importance of stage points has been made evident as those additional markers have aided drivers and teams to become one of the 16 to make it into contention or to advance into the next round. Because of that, making moves during early portions of a race that 30 years ago would have seemed unthinkable have now become almost commonplace. At times, drivers have become quite aggressive in making those moves.
Adding to the need for more aggressive driving apart from the desire for stage points is the fact that modern NASCAR Cup Series cars are more equal than they ever have been. That fact was shown by the number of different drivers to win races during the 2022 season.
The Next Gen machine has definitely evened out the level of competition during its brief history in this form of motorsports. That actually creates a bit of a problem for competitors but great entertainment for fans. With all cars running in a very tight range of speed, the only way to pass is to rough up the car running in the next position ahead. The results sometimes proved to be disastrous for one or more drivers. But those making the moves apparently deemed them worthwhile due to the difficulty in passing.
As far as entertainment goes, those aggressive moves and the resulting mishaps occasional led to some pushing and shoving or name calling which spiced up some events.
The bottom line is that aggression is now essential. There is no biding time or holding back until the end of the race. The cars are largely bulletproof so, unlike years ago, drivers can’t expect to gain positions because of attrition. If a driver wants to succeed in the sport in these times, he/she has to be aggressive.
Aggressive driving is now just the way of things.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
Respond to this piece on Twitter – @RichardAllenIDR