NASCAR’s ‘Next Gen’ car, the game-changing sport hoped it would become | Nascar

The status quo would have suited NASCAR driver Kyle Larson just fine.

Everything clicked in 2021 for Larson, a 10-time winner and Cup Series champion. The sport itself needed a good start.

The long-awaited arrival of the “Next Gen” car has turbocharged NASCAR as the decision makers hoped.

Even though Larson took just his second win last week at Watkins Glen, he sees the car change as the right decision for the future of the sport.

“A lot of racing fans seem to like it,” Larson said. “A lot of races are the highest rated races over the last few years. The television audience has increased; it is important. Me behind the wheel, the race was exciting.

Also unpredictable.

Victory Lane was a revolving door of winners entering the regular season-ending Coke Zero Sugar 400 Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

Beginning with February’s Daytona 500, the sport’s 7th generation vehicle produced 12 different winners in the first 14 races – and 15 winners in the 26-race regular season.

“We haven’t seen anyone really take off with it, run away with the show,” said two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.

Chase Elliott leads the Cup Series with 4 wins, including 3 in the last nine races. Next came a field of drivers with 2 wins led by Larson alongside Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain.

The list includes the defending champion (Larson), three future Hall of Famers (Hamlin, Logano, Harvick), a rising star (Byron) and two first-time winners (Reddick and Chastain).

Additionally, Chastain, a native of tiny Alva in southwest Florida, and teammate Daniel Suaréz, Mexico’s first Cup Series winner, drive for upstart Trackhouse Racing. The sophomore team led by rapper Pitbull and entrepreneur and former driver Justin Marks represents the new blood and diversity that NASCAR hopes to attract with the Next Gen car.

“There’s a lot of excitement around the sport,” said veteran Martin Truex Jr.

In addition to creating aggressive races, unpredictable winners and fan interest; the new car aims to bring more teams into the garage by drastically reducing the cost of ownership.

Race teams now use identical parts and the same instruction manual, eliminating the massive investment in research and development and subsequent advantage gained by wealthier teams.

The learning curve has challenged even the best drivers and teams in the sport.

“Trying to understand this car and what it takes to be fast with it is definitely different than years past,” Busch said. “All the cars come from the same place now. It’s not like you have the ability to put a little engineering into the car to make it go faster. It’s about finding the right pieces of the puzzle.

Truex said limited training windows of 15 to 20 minutes heighten the challenge. The 42-year-old enters the Coke Zero Sugar 400 without a win; he has 28 wins since 2016.

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“Everyone learns on the fly and you can’t use what you know from the past,” Truex said. “It’s a lot of guesswork involved. You try to figure out what you think you need for the week and show up on the track – and if it’s wrong, you’re pretty much stuck with it.

“It was a challenge.”

For a sport that needs a boost, the “Next Gen” car has been a godsend.

“The overall consumption of sports across all verticals is on the rise, whether it’s social, digital, television numbers,” said Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher.

Those behind the wheel enjoyed the ride.

“The car was exceptional for the uncertainty, the learning of it, the unpredictability, all of those things produced a lot of drama and a lot of surprises,” said veteran Aric Almirola of Tampa. “The car produced exactly what was hoped for.”

©2022 Orlando Sentinel. Visit at orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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