Did the first “real” race show that Chevrolet has taken the lead with the Next Gen?

Was Chevrolet’s dominance at Auto Club a sign of things to come?(Getty Images)

The Next Gen car proved to be a bit of a puzzle during its first year in competition as no particular team appeared to get a handle on the new machine put in use on the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022. No particular driver or even manufacturer just completely dominated the season as had sometimes been the case during the Gen 6’s run as the primary racer being used at the sport’s top division. A total of 19 different pilots steered into victory lane over the course of last year’s campaign to demonstrate that the car either truly had brought parity to this form of racing or that it was proving to be difficult to harness.

Could it be that early season returns might be providing an indication that one manufacturer has gotten a leg up on the competition this year?

Chevrolet turned in a strong performance in the Pala Casino 400 last Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway with Richard Childress Racing driver Kyle Busch ultimately sailing under the checkered flag to claim his first victory with his new team. But it wasn’t just that a “bow tie” won the race. A closer look at the statistics offers a better view of the whole picture.

The top-4 finishers on the 2-mile Fontana, California track were in Chevrolets as Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez followed Busch to the finish line. Alex Bowman(8th) and Austin Dillon(9th) also ended their days with top-10 results.

Perhaps an even more noteworthy demonstration of Chevy’s dominance at ACS was in the number of laps led by the brand. In all, 140 laps were paced by drivers of that brand with Ross Chastain at the front for 91 circuits, Busch for 27, and four other drivers combining to account for the remaining 22 laps led.

Chevrolet made it two-for-two at this very early stage of the season after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the Daytona 500 for JTG-Daugherty Racing. But many consider the second race on the schedule to be the first “real” event of the year because of the highly unpredictable nature of the two super speedways formerly known as restrictor plate tracks.

Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Super Speedway are often times not considered along with the other tracks on the NASCAR schedule because the type of racing at those facilities is unlike any of the others. As a result they offer little insight as to which drivers, teams, or manufacturers might be best.

Tracks such as Auto Club Speedway can be grouped in with a number of others such as Michigan, Charlotte, Texas, Kansas, Homestead, Atlanta and this coming week’s race site, Las Vegas, as those places that fit into the 1.5 to 2-mile “cookie cutter” venues. Almost one-third of the NASCAR schedule consists of those tracks. Because of that, Auto Club might very well have provided a snapshot of what to expect going forward.

Has Chevrolet found an edge on the “real” race tracks with the Next Gen car? It’s too early to answer that question just yet but if Sunday’s race in Las Vegas produces similar results, the “Bow-Tie Brigade” might very well be on to something.

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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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