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Did You Notice?: 3 Things That Will Make or Break NASCAR Next Gen

Did You Notice? … The NASCAR Next Gen car was revealed last week? Now that the dust has settled a bit, let’s go back and take a look at the changes in store for stock car racing in 2022.

Of course, hype from all around the industry is that this car, over two years in the making, is the best piece of racing machinery ever created. But praise seems to settle on three main themes NASCAR will immediately be judged on.

1) This car creates better racing and will encourage drivers to get aggressive.

Even casual fans understand the level to which aerodynamics and engineering have taken over NASCAR. We’ve seen it countless times over the past few years; light contact between two cars immediately cuts down a tire and forces a visit to pit road. A car scrapes the outside wall and, suddenly, pieces come off and debris forces a caution flag.

It’s to the point contact is detrimental even at short tracks like Richmond Raceway, turning races into a multi-groove circular highway. Multiple lanes between every car? At 3/4-mile tracks? That’s not what fans tune in for. NASCAR understands contact while fighting for position is a healthy part of the sport and have staked their reputations on the strength of these Next Gen composite bodies.

“NASCAR is all about beating and banging on the racetrack,” said NASCAR Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell. “Less chance for that cut tire that you see under our current design.”

“Rubbing is racing,” added NASCAR SVP of Racing Innovation John Probst. “So there will be less of a chance — I’m not saying there won’t be any chance – our drivers can find ways to hit the wall – I think you’ll see when they do that now, there will be less consequence.”

A move to a wider wheel (from 15 to 18 inches in diameter) also allows for a softer tire compound. Goodyear has supposedly developed compounds that will give drivers better grip, have more falloff in speed over the course of a run and reduce dependence on aerodynamics. Only one lug nut instead of five will have those tires looking different, too.

It all adds up to an important sales pitch: no more follow-the-leader after a few hard-fought laps on restarts at intermediate tracks. No more races like Kansas Speedway last fall where a much faster Kevin Harvick sat helpless behind Joey Logano in the closing laps due to aerodynamics. The goal of this car is to put more control in the driver’s hands, period.

“I think the racing is going to be better,” said NASCAR President Steve Phelps. “I think you look at the aero in particular and the wake or the dirty air that comes from the existing car, the ability to reduce that, which this car does … and then the bigger tire patch and the wider tires with a softer compound I think will, again, create what I already believe is the best racing we’ve already had and will create even better racing.”

Those lofty words need to be backed up by reality in 2022.

2) These cars look and are built like their counterparts on the street.

Brand identification used to be an important part of NASCAR fandom. That disappeared with the sport’s Car of Tomorrow in the late 2000s, alien-like additions of Ford, Chevy, Dodge and Toyota that left the manufacturers barely identifiable.

NASCAR’s goal with the Next Gen car is to bring that brand allegiance back. Here’s photos of each Next Gen chassis next to a stock photo of the 2021 model of that same car.

Next Gen Ford Mustang

A completely new era in stock car racing is ushered in today as Ford unveils its all-new 2022 NASCAR Next Gen Mustang to the public in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Next Gen Mustang will compete in the NASCAR Cup Series starting next season.
Photo: Ford Media

Next Gen Chevy Camaro ZL1

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Next Gen and regular car Chevrolets Performance Design studio worked closely with racing engineering to optimize Chevrolet Media
(Photo: Chevrolet Media)

Next Gen Toyota Camry

2022 NASCAR Cup Series Toyota TRD regular and racing car Toyota Motor Sales Toyota Newsroom
(Photo: Toyota Newsroom)

Judge for yourself, but in my view, these Next Gen models are closer to their street counterparts than they’ve been in 25 years. The insides are a much better match, too, from subtle changes like a fifth gear to talk of a potential switch to hybrid engines down the road.

“The new architecture moving it forward, making it more modern,” said Global Director of Ford Performance Mark Rushbrook, “The independent rear suspension, the steering system, the driveline, the opportunity for power train advancements as our world changes for future power trains. That’s all built into this.”

“The lower greenhouse, the deck lid size really matches up well to the production car,” added Director of NASCAR Programs for GM Eric Warren. “That and the independent rear suspension were the two big things.”

There’s also financial incentive for manufacturers to modernize. The upside of fans supporting a manufacturer along with their driver is they’re more likely to drive that car on the street. Harvick’s driving a sweet-looking Mustang? It’s the next level of sponsor support that helps justify the multi-million dollar spend on racing.

“When I look at this race car,” Phelps said, “It looks exactly like the race car that I can potentially buy on Monday. Obviously, the win on Sunday portion is important, so getting in victory lane for these guys is important for Chevy, Toyota and Ford, but I think absolutely getting back to our roots, getting back to kind of putting the stock back in stock car will help sell vehicles on Monday.”

That type of connection is important for NASCAR to attract additional manufacturers into the sport. They appear to have done that while modernizing the technology around these cars. We’ll see.

3) These cars will cost less money over the long term, plus they’re built from scratch so it’s easier for new owners to come in and compete.

Denny Hamlin, as part of introducing Toyota in the Next Gen press conference, admitted that’s why part of 23XI Racing came together.

“It’s an attractive time to come into the sport…” he said. “We have a reset in technology and resources that are going to be going into this car. We’re not at a 20- to 30-year disadvantage by coming into the sport. We’ll all be developing it at the same time in its early existence.”

That might be more attractive for new ownership, like Michael Jordan, when the barrier of entry is high. 15 of the top 16 playoff positions are currently held by multi-car teams; no first-year owner in any of the top three NASCAR series would make the postseason if the year ended today.

Will the cost to entry go down? Composite bodies will help. The problem is that everyone will be buying the same stuff from scratch, which would at least put new ownership on the same level instead of having to defer to superteams like Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick Motorsports for chassis assistance.

“I think the simple answer is that generally you’re having less parts and pieces you’re going to be developing,” Hamlin added. “Will you need to staff as many people as what you have currently? I don’t know that’s the case.”

That’s a tough answer for some NASCAR employees to hear, especially with four-car programs like Hendrick or Gibbs that employ hundreds of people. But smaller, leaner teams could increase the numbers that attempt to make the field each week. No one says the grid has to be permanently limited to 40. It used to be as large as 43 and there’s room within the top three divisions for growth.

Of course, new ownership won’t stick around if they don’t experience success. How can NASCAR encourage more hands in the pot, evening out competition while four-car teams threaten to take up 25 percent of playoff bids every year? It’s a challenge that won’t disappear with the Next Gen.

There’s still plenty more questions than answers as we await a test with multiple cars on the track. That’s expected by late summer with a number of tests between now and the 2022 season. But fan feedback, even now, will be crucial as the sport looks to redefine the way it does business over the coming decade.

“Ultimately the fans are going to judge this,” said O’Donnell. “If the fans like what they see, we’ll continue to do more of that.”

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….

  • The Nashville Fairgrounds isn’t back yet, but after a contentious Fair Board meeting, it appears according to Autoweek’s Matt Weaver they’ll allow Speedway Motorsports, Inc. to purchase the track. If it happens, that means it’s only a matter of time before proper renovations bring NASCAR back to downtown Nashville.
  • Erik Darnell, a former Roush Fenway Racing prospect, ran his first NASCAR race in nine years at Darlington Raceway in the Camping World Truck Series. He was 17th for Niece Motorsports, who has now run the following drivers since the start of 2020: former Truck champion James Buescher, 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and X Games gold medalist Travis Pastrana. It’s a Who’s Who of drivers who fell off the radar screen in NASCAR, but can Niece ever offer one of them a full-time ride? The driver merry-go-round is great publicity but horrible consistency for a program searching for its footing after Brett Moffitt chose to focus on the Xfinity Series.
  • To put a point on NASCAR Throwback weekend, a Darlington race that had only four drivers finish within a half-lap of the leader produced the largest stock car audience for FOX Sports 1 since 2017. I’d expect two dates at this iconic track are here to stay.

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Bill B

All of the above may be true and I hope it is, but three words come to mind, Car Of Tomorrow. They assured us how great it was going to be before it hit the track and it may have been the worst ever. Every time they release a new car they swear to us that it’s going to be the next best thing since sliced bread (no disrespect Joey) and every time it’s been a major let down. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I will believe it when I see it. If NASCAR wants to do themselves a favor they shouldn’t over-hype it.

Glad to see the Darlington race was a ratings success.

A Different Steve

My thoughts exactly. And Steve Phelps telling me how great its going to be doesn’t change my view either. He’s about as believable as Brian France was, so immediately red flags are up with this new car. I’m still taking a wait and see approach before I make an opinion.

The one thing that I’m not understanding though, apparently, is that other than the front ends of the cars, they all look exactly the same. But they keep trying to sell us on the fact that these vehicle all look like their street counterpart. I’m just not seeing it.

Another aspect was touched on below. Are these crew chiefs going to be able to have some freedom adjusting these cars. If not, I fear this will be just as big a disaster as the COT when that design rolled out. Remember Kyle Busch in Victory Lane at Bristol (if my memory is correct) saying how horrible the car was?

Bill B

That is a good point. It won’t be the COT it will be worse…. IROC. (although we are pretty much way down that road already).

Allowing a lot of legal room for the crew chiefs to try things might be more important than the cars themselves. Don’t want them to open it up to cheating but more latitude in several areas allow for infinite combinations with which to find speed. In the end though, once they figure it out, my bet is we end up right back where we are.

Echo

Oh crap, it IS IROC isn’t it.

Tony Morris

Agreed! And where can we all buy a two door Camry with a v8 ?
I don’t think so Mr Phelps.

Steve

Just where are all these so call new team going to get charters from, Teams in NASCAR that want to expand now can’t because no charters are open, so if no charters are open just how are all these so called new teams coming to NASCAR, someone explain that

bruce donaldson

Itll be minorities only, watch and see.

David Russell Edwards

Not only the charters, but where are they going to get the infrastructure? Its one thing to start a satellite team, buying or leasing everything from one of the megateams. Something else entirely to do it on your own.

Otherwise, we have heard it all before, how this is going to save racing. Meanwhile nothing changes. The teams may make more money, but I suspect the racing wont change.

But maybe they will be right this time.

David Russell Edwards

Ratings success? A 1.71 rating? You know the way these comparisions are made, there is always a positive way to spin things. Well it was on a different weekend. Well it was on cable, as opposed to networks.
The bottom line is that the rating was less than half that of last year as were the viewers. Slice it however you want (and by the way the networks made the decision to put it on FS1) but people aren’t rushing to watch Nascar. And I doubt that the NextGen car is going to change that.

Jo

I only care if it provides better racing. This season I have been able to read several books while “watching” the racing on TV on mute. And I didn’t miss a thing in the book or in the race.

The only interesting part of any NASCAR race is the restarts after cautions. And at the tracks with low tire wear, the pit strategy is interesting to watch. That’s why Darlington was a complete dud. No one was bold on pit stop strategy because the tires wore too fast. The car doesn’t seem to matter. NASCAR just needs a competition caution every 50 laps or so and one with 10 to go.

DoninAjax

Does anyone know what adjustments the team can make to set up the vehicles for each track. One of the numerous problems with the iterations of the CoT was the inability of the teams to set up the vehicles the way the driver wanted.

WJW Motorsports

Per NASCAR Rule 12.14.3C – The only approved adjustments to this car are the placement of decals.

David Amstutz

Let’s see teams can’t build their own engine, can’t build their own frames, buy composite bodies and a bunch of drivers with no talent. And we wonder what’s wrong with Nascar, looks more like a traveling sideshow from the 60s.

Leon

Amen on that David , my dad and ol racing buddy is turning in his grave today . Guess this is like our government, lies lies and more lies , we’re here to help you even more.
NAW …I PASS ….I AM NOW A LATE MODEL DIRT MANIC …. THE BEST RACING SINCE THE 70’S ..

Rod Wilson

Didn’t it take Chevy several years to catch up to Ford and Toyota on the last generation of cars? Is this going to happen again with one of the manufacturers lagging behind?

Terpen

The only thing that can save NASCAR is Bubba Wallace. I read that last week on Yahoo.
Guessing better equipment wasn’t the answer. I dunno.

Robert E. Lee

Darrel Wallace will go nowhere and end up doing nothing. He is the Colon Crapperdick of NASCAR.

Wallace Ray

We need more regular networking of racing .
We need to get off sports channels
Where more of us . Can watch!
Better chances for more independent teams to have better chances in this racing future.
I have always racing but not being able to watch it KILLS. Godbless

Dennis Atwood

Wallace Ray nailed it! Put NASCAR back on network tv, then I’ll be able to watch the racing instead of mowing the lawn.

Dr Bill S

People don’t realize that over 1,000 NASCAR jobs will be lost. One big team has returned 100 welding sets to Lincoln. Shops don’t have to fabricate parts with the new car. Car costs will double, but labor will get a big cut. Let’s just hope for better racing…

Benjamin Faw

If it looks like a duck, it’s a duck. Why don’t they just come out and say they are copying the Supercars and GT3?They might as well put the pneumatic jacks and use the same fueling system. I don’t have a problem with that, but just go ahead and go all the way with it.

Leon

I see my post wasn’t included in the comments , even they are acting like FAKE SOCIAL MEDIA .
NAPCAR CAN DROP A ROD ..IN MY HUMBLE OPINION.
GOOD RIDDANCE TO THE CORPERATE MOGULS.
SEE YA !!!

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