NASCAR’s ‘Next Gen’ car has created more parity, interest

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

2021 has been everything for Larson, a 10-time winner and Cup Series champion. The sport itself needed a boost.

The long-awaited arrival of the “Next Gen” car has supercharged NASCAR in the way decision makers had hoped.

Although Larson clinched only his second win at Watkins Glen last week, he sees the car switch as the right step for the future of the sport.

“A lot of race fans seem to like it,” Larson said. “Many races are the best rated races in recent years. TV viewership has increased; this is important. Me behind the wheel, the race was exciting.”

Unpredictable too.

Victory Lane was a revolving door for winners competing in the regular season finisher of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.

Beginning with the Daytona 500 in February, the 7th generation sports car 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, 3 in the last nine races. Next is a group of 2-win riders led by Larson along with Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain.

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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).

Chastain, who hails from tiny Alva in Southwest Florida, and his teammate Daniel Suaréz, the inaugural Cup Series winner from Mexico, also drive for newly promoted Trackhouse Racing. The second-year team, led by rapper Pitbull and Justin Marks, an entrepreneur and former driver, represents the new blood and diversity NASCAR hopes to attract with the next-generation car.

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

As well as creating aggressive races, unpredictable winners and fan interest; The new car aims to bring more teams into the garage by significantly reducing running costs.

Racing teams now use identical parts and the same instruction manual, eliminating the massive investment in R&D and the resulting advantage of wealthier teams.

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

“Trying to figure out this car and what it takes to be fast with it is definitely different than it has been in years past,” Busch said. “All the cars now come from the same place. It’s not like you get a chance to put some tech in the car to make it go faster. It’s about finding the right pieces of the puzzle.”

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Truex said limited practice windows of 15 to 20 minutes intensified 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 spontaneously and you can’t go back to what you know from the past,” Truex said. “It takes a lot of guesswork. You’re trying to figure out what you think you’ll need during the week and you show up along the way — and when it’s wrong, you’re pretty much stuck.

“It was a challenge.”

For a sport that needs a boost, the Next Gen car has been a boon.

“The overall consumption of sport across every industry has increased, whether it’s social, digital or TV numbers,” said Frank Kelleher, president of Daytona International Speedway.

Those behind the wheel enjoyed the ride.

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

This article first appeared on Email Edgar Thompson at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @osgators.

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