When the 2022 season began there were many questions revolving around NASCAR’s new Next Gen car and how it would perform. Initially, there was some excitement generated when it appeared as if the machine had in fact improved the racing on the much maligned 1.5 and 2-mile ‘cookie cutter’ tracks. But as the season has gone on, it seems that some of that initial enthusiasm may have worn off, particularly as more races have been contested on short tracks and road courses.
Early on, the thought among many was that if the racing could be improved on the cookie cutters, the short tracks and road courses would take care of themselves with much more of the competition aspects being in the drivers’ hands rather than the aero-dependent cars. However, that has not actually been the case as the Next Gen has largely failed to deliver on tracks that were once thought to be can’t miss venues.
Jeff Gluck(The Athletic) runs a weekly ‘Was It A Good Race?’ poll on his Twitter account and the results have not panned out for the short tracks and road courses. Of all races this season, only one road course ranks in the top-10(Watkins Glen- 2nd) with no short tracks among the ten best events out of the 32 points-paying and two exhibition races contested so far.
As a matter of fact, the bottom half of the poll is where races held at Martinsville, Bristol(Dirt & Concrete), Road America, Indy Road Course, and the recently completed Charlotte Roval can be found. The odds would have been pretty high against that being the case before the season started.
The top performers so far have, surprisingly enough, have been tracks such as Kansas, Charlotte(Oval), Michigan and Fontana. That said, the All-Star Race and the points-paying race at Texas have been the two worst according to respondents to Gluck’s poll so it seems as if neither the new car nor the old could provide any answers for that 1.5-mile layout.
The NASCAR Cup Series will return for its second visit of the 2022 campaign to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. A good race there could be an important one for the perception of the Next Gen. After all, three of the past four races(Talladega barely making the top half of the poll numbers) have been less than stellar according to fans with two of those(Texas and the Roval) ranking not only near the bottom of the poll for this season but of all time.
NASCAR definitely doesn’t need a bunch of dud races during the NASCAR Playoffs at a time when the sport is going head-to-head with the NFL in the competition for viewers during the Sunday afternoon time slot.
The first race at Las Vegas held back on March 6th and won by Alex Bowman received a 90.4% approval rating on Gluck’s poll. But since then, the car has turned in those previously mentioned dud races and has been criticized for safety issues as Bowman and Kurt Busch have been forced to miss races due to concussion-like symptoms following crashes. There have also been fires inside the cars for which NASCAR has received the scorn of drivers, crews and media.
Normally at this time of the season we would be talking about certain drivers who need good performances as the Playoffs wind down. Instead, at least some focus is on the car being used by those drivers. The Next Gen needs to produce a good race in Las Vegas with no significant safety issues being experienced to make up for the recent failures.
Going into the first race of the ‘Round of 8’ the car does not need to play a role in the outcome of a championship.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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