The Next Gen car has been talked about for years. Now five races into the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule on a variety of tracks, and drivers, their teams, and the fans are getting a good sense of the car and how it will perform.
So far, the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, with exciting on-track action due to cars that are unquestionably more challenging for the drivers to handle. In addition to an entertaining racing product, the cars have also proven to be more durable than many expected. Incidents that would have ended a driver’s day last year now see the new cars returning to the track and doing so competitively. It’s yet another reason NASCAR should be applauded for transitioning to the new car.
Next Gen car presented safety concerns last year
For months last year, multiple NASCAR Cup drivers, including Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, raised red flags over safety issues with the Next Gen car and NASCAR’s inability to communicate with the teams about effectively addressing those potential concerns.
“When it comes to the crash stuff, I’ve asked questions to two different NASCAR people, executives. I can’t get a response. That, to me, makes it even scarier,” Hamlin acknowledged. “Man, the disconnect right now between all the parties — NASCAR, the tracks, and all the drivers — it’s tough right now. It’s not a good place.”
Kevin Harvick echoed Hamlin’s concerns.
“As we sat in the drivers’ meeting that NASCAR had with us (in May) to show us everything, I think that the most frustrating part of the whole process is the fact that the safety piece to the drivers and the conversation with the drivers, which was asked for by the drivers, was had at the very end of everything,” Harvick said. “And as you look at that, I think the guys driving the cars are owed at least the respect enough to at least be a part of the process of what’s going on. Everybody is just a little bit frustrated with how all that’s been handled.”
Crashing and returning to top finishes
The car has passed the safety test through five races that have included numerous crashes, including several hard hits and Harrison Burton’s rollover in the season-opening race at Daytona.
While safety is undoubtedly the most important, teams have also discovered the car’s improved durability has proven to be a huge benefit. Unlike last season when even the slightest contact might lead to a tire rub, followed by a pit stop, and potentially ending any chance of victory, tire rubs haven’t been a thing with the new car. Heck, for that matter, bigger impacts haven’t either.
Last weekend’s race in Atlanta proved just how strong the carbon fiber bodies of the new cars are, and they’ve dramatically reduced the number of cars ending their days in the garage.
Ross Chastain led the race late in the first stage when he suffered a flat left-rear tire and slid hard into the outside wall, with the right-rear of his car sustaining damage. The Trackhouse Racing driver pitted, made repairs, and finished the race second.
Later in the race, Kurt Busch slammed hard into the side of Tyler Reddick, who cut down a left-rear tire directly in front of him. The No. 45 suffered damage to the nose. The 2004 Cup champion finished third.
Chastain summed up the feelings of the drivers about the Next Gen car’s sturdiness after the race.
“This Gen 7 car, to take a lick like that, blow a right rear, slam the wall, I thought our day was over,” Chastain said. “Our guys went underneath the car, got the toe closer, and we got the balance back where I could drive it and this Advent Health Chevy was fast.”
Next Gen car has produced exciting racing
In addition to more teams being able to finish the race even after considerable contact, the Next Gen car has been a huge overall success because it’s produced exciting action from start to finish in all the races, including regular passing and a steady dose of lead changes.
NASCAR endlessly promoted how the new car would level the playing field. While the end results might not reflect that with Hendrick Motorsports winning three of the first five races, fans and drivers will tell you it wasn’t decided until the very end and numerous smaller teams like Chastain and Trackhouse could have just as easily found themselves in Victory Lane.
The Next Gen car has lived up to expectations early in the season. And if the races continue on the same trajectory for the remainder of the year, there could be some new faces winning and a lot of teams in the running coming to the checkered flag in each race, which in the end, is all fans really want to see.