The Next Gen came onto the NASCAR Cup Series scene at the beginning of the 2022 season and initially showed some promise as the sport’s new racing machine. Tracks that had previously not produced the greatest of competition suddenly were putting on entertaining shows. Tracks such as Auto Club Speedway, Kansas, Las Vegas, Charlotte and Michigan, which had previously been criticized by fans and media for lackluster action, were among some of the best races of the season last year.
Unfortunately, other tracks that had been among the favorites on the schedule, proved to be less than spectacular. Martinsville, Bristol and most of the road courses produced some of the least exciting events of 2022. Venues that had been thought of as locks to produce great action were not doing so with the Next Gen.
As the season played out, the competition level was inconsistent with some races being outstanding while others were uninspiring. Unpredictability became the norm. At the same time, one thing the car certainly did produce was parity as 19 different drivers pulled into victory lane throughout the 36-race season.
It seems unlikely that anything like that will happen again as there has already been three multiple-race winners in the first ten events. The 2022 season was 14 races old when a third multiple-race winner took the checkered flag so a bit of the parity seems to have dissipated.
So far in the 2023 season, it looks as if the Next Gen has lost some of its more redeeming qualities from last year. The quality of racing has largely been very mediocre during the current campaign with the event held in Fontana, California being perhaps the best of the year while as many as half of the races have been barely better than snoozers.
As driver Denny Hamlin has stated on his ‘Actions Detrimental‘ podcast, passing has been at a premium with many lead changes only coming about because of pit stop exchanges and restarts. While some may comment that the sport is called racing and not passing, the exchanging of positions is what makes it interesting and keeps fans engaged.
Further, the most unfortunate thing about the Next Gen is that it has not performed well in the area of driver safety. Competitors have missed events because of concussions during the car’s history and there have been multiple fires to cause concern. It would have seemed that a car that had been totally redesigned would have placed safety above all else but there have been undeniable issues.
At best, the Next Gen has had an up and down first year-and-a-quarter. There have certainly been some good points such as the number of different winners it has produced but the disappointingly few passes and safety issues may very well have overridden the good.
A car that started off with such promise by making the races held on the ‘cookie cutter’ tracks seem better then failed to deliver on the short tracks and road courses where the sport had always thrived. Now, the entertaining races seem to be even fewer and farther between than before.
So, what happened to the Next Gen?
The car doesn’t seem to be evolving into something better but rather devolving into basically what NASCAR has had with other generations of racers. Aero-dependent machines that have great difficulty passing with races that boil down to late cautions and pit stop contests. Hopefully, that will change as teams learn more about what makes the car tick.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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