With the NASCAR banquet now behind us and the awards from 2022 having been doled out, it is now time begin focusing on the 2023 season. In reality, however, teams began working toward next year a number of weeks ago. But now that the past campaign has officially been brought to it’s conclusion, all efforts inside the garages located around the Charlotte area can be pointed in the direction of the upcoming schedule of events.
Of course, every NASCAR Cup Series off-season is important as preparations for next year are made but this one is taking on added significance with a full season with the Next Gen car, or Generation 7, now behind the teams. A full campaign has been completed with all the knowledge gained by drivers, engineers, and crew chiefs that went with it. Now the challenge is to add to that knowledge at a faster rate than the competing organizations.
The Next Gen proved to be an equalizer in its first year of competition as a total of 19 different drivers scored wins including some by teams not typically considered regular front runners and by emerging teams that have not been a part of the sport for very long. Where in previous years there were only a few drivers and teams that had legitimate chances to win races, in 2022, that was not always the case. Surprises became less surprising as the season played out.
What potentially makes this off-season so important is that the powerhouse operations will now have time to spend looking for those slight advantages that, as with previous cars used in NASCAR, allowed them to separate from the smaller teams. Those smaller organizations must be hoping to find some sort of edge to not only keep pace with the bigger teams but to even get ahead.
During the winter of 2021-22, there was hardly any time for teams to seek out advantages as the introduction of a new machine was greatly hampered by shortages of pieces and parts that left teams scrambling to complete enough cars that were slow to be delivered. Simply having enough cars to run the early races was the goal for the first few races on the slate.
The rush get enough cars ready to race prior to heading for Daytona won’t be as much of an issue this time around so more time to work on the smaller details will be more of a part of the plan now. It is in those small details where separation of the organizations comes. And it is within the more heavily staffed engineering departments are where those advantages can be found.
The off-season leading into the 2022 season was an important one but for different reasons than that of the current off-season. Last year was a hurried scramble trying to put enough new cars together to compete while this year will be one of trying to tweak an already existing car to find an edge.
It can easily be argued that this is one of the most important time frames in recent NASCAR history because it will go a long way toward determining whether the competitiveness of last year with the Next Gen was a fluke or a true indication of how equal among the teams the Next Gen is.
Will NASCAR’s new car prove to be as competitive in 2023 as it was in 2022? This off-season will tell that tale.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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