*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.
Give the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season an overall grade
Richard : Had this question been asked a few months ago, my grade would have been much higher. During the early part of the season, the outlook was promising as the new Next Gen car seemed to help the racing on the intermediate sized tracks. However, as the campaign wore on, cracks began to show themselves.
Over the past few seasons, the best racing in the NASCAR Cup Series took place on short tracks and road courses. That was definitely not true in 2022. Whether it be because of better brakes, shifting gears, or the car’s rigidity, the racing on the tracks that had always been counted on to produce great shows was disturbed. Perhaps the thinking was that those types of tracks would produce great racing no matter what so doing whatever it took to fix the “cookie cutters” would not harm short tracks and road courses.
But the real issue that will hurt the grade for the 2022 season comes from the fact that safety concerns were evident early on in the development of the Next Gen and NASCAR seemed to be slow to react. Fires proved to be a significant hazard throughout the season. And more, drivers were suffering injuries during crashes. Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch were forced to miss races due to concussion-like symptoms after what initially appeared to be relatively benign incidents. Others such as Tyler Reddick and Cody Ware also showed signs of potential issues after crashes.
But on the brighter side, the fact that the 2022 season featured 19 different winners with some coming from teams that had not been considered typical front runners provided excitement and intrigue. It certainly looked as if the Next Gen did deliver on the promise of equality among the teams.
With all of the factors above taken into account, I would give the 2022 season at grade of C+.
Michael : It’s hard to give it an overall grade for several reasons. For the most part, racing was better on the 1.5-mile tracks. At least it was until playoff time. The short tracks were lackluster and those are usually the better races. The road courses have not been that great since NASCAR implemented stage racing.
The new car was more competitive except for the short tracks. But the problem with the car was the safety issues. It seemed like the most basic of crashes sidelined drivers for multiple weeks or for the remainder of the season.
There was no lack of drama throughout the season. For that, I give it a solid B.
Ross Chastain’s wall running at Martinsville was the moment of the year in NASCAR (Getty Images)
Pick one moment that stands out as THE moment of 2022
Richard : For me, there is no question what the moment of the season was. Ross Chastain’s last-lap move at Martinsville that secured him a place in the Championship 4 is one of the most exciting things I have ever seen in racing. And when you consider that I am 55 years old, that’s saying something.
Few moments in any sport during 2022 got that much attention in regular media or social media.
That said, there were other great moments. The last lap at Circuit of the Americas was thrilling. The Coca-Cola 600 and the Daytona 500 lived up to their status as crown jewel events. And seeing the No. 43 return to victory lane made for a cool story as well.
Another thing that happened off the track might be looked at later on as a big moment was the separation of Kyle Busch from Joe Gibbs Racing. Rarely do we see such a powerhouse driver and team who have had a great run together part ways as they did.
Michael : THE moment has to be Ross Chastain’s wall riding at Martinsville. It was an unreal move and got millions of views online.
Will 2023 be as good or better than 2022 was?
Richard : For me, the Next Gen’s safety record must improve before the grade I gave earlier can go any higher. If, early on in the season we are still seeing fires or if a driver has to miss races due to injuries received in a crash, then no progress will have been made on the car. Having the sport’s stars missing races because of the car’s imperfections is unacceptable.
And certainly, the competition needs to improve on short tracks and road courses while continuing to stay at a high level on the intermediate circuits.
Unlike in our Dirt Late Model version of the ‘Turn 2’ in which I said that the next season should be good due to the fact that all of the pieces are in place for 2023 to be a great season. I don’t necessarily feel that way regarding the NASCAR Cup Series.
The Next Gen is getting a new rear clip that will hopefully reduce the rigidity of the car, and in turn, should reduce driver injuries. Further, the racing must get better on the short tracks and road courses, which did seem to be improving near the end of last season.
All of last year, you and I kept anticipating some team would find an advantage and go on to dominate. But that never happened. After a full off-season and some experience with the car, the engineers may find something that will cause such to occur. Ultimately, I believe there will be improvements where they need to be. I am going to hopefully say that this overall season will be better than the last.
Erik Jones returned the No. 43 to victory lane in 2022 (Getty Images)
Michael : Like you, the safety concerns with the car need to be adequately addressed. Until we see whether that has been resolved, we really don’t know when a driver will suddenly be sidelined. And the short track competition needs to be fixed. Aside from the All-Star race taking place at North Wilkesboro, I don’t know if there will be a lot more buzz than in past seasons. I don’t mean to waffle on the subject, I can’t say whether 2023 will be any better.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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