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Does Closer Racing Mean Better Racing?

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Joshua Lipowski

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Has the Next-Gen Car Made the Racing Too Close?

It seems only logical that the closer the racing is, the better the racing is. I mean, who doesn’t love a good photo finish or two drivers battling door-to-door for position? However, the Next-Gen car has brought Cup Series racing even closer than ever before, but, is there such a thing as the racing being too close?

Why May Close Racing Not Always Good Racing?

Most auto racing fans would probably agree that just because cars are close to each other on the race track, that does not necessarily make for a good race. There have been instances in NASCAR where it can be argued the cars were too close for a race to actually be good.

One instance happened just a few weeks ago at Watkins Glen when the second through sixth-place cars all sat nose-to-tail with less than a second between each of them, but, no one could make a move. The infamous “Train racing” at superspeedway is another example where cars sit nose-to-tail, but no one either can or is willing to make a move by themselves. Some would argue that even the current superspeedway package has the same issue, except it’s multiple lines of racing.

Now, that’s not to say that whenever the racing is close the racing is bad, but it does show that there can be instances where the racing is so close that cars can have trouble passing. That is probably where many would draw the line. If it becomes impossible to pass, then it is hard to say there is any real racing going on.

Now, has the Next-Gen car actually reached this point? Let’s take a look at that a bit deeper.

Looking at the Negatives of the Close Racing of the Next-Gen Car

There is at least one NASCAR driver who argues that the racing has gotten too close with the Next-Gen car. Joey Logano claims there is a “happy medium” between the racing being extremely close and the racing being too spread out. He feels that NASCAR has gotten to that point.

In fairness, we did mention certain instances in the first section of this piece with the Next-Gen car where the cars were so close together on speed that they could not pass each other. This problem is also prevalent on short tracks where the braking zones are so much shorter now because of the reduced horsepower and the big brakes on the car.

It’s harder to pass with this car because the racing is so close together. In some places, it has become too hard to pass. One of Denny Hamlin’s favorite phrases to use when it comes to Next-Gen cars is “Lap time variability”, which is definitely lacking with this new car. Now, is that purely because the racing is too close together, or is it because of other factors to do with the Next-Gen car?

There are some really good things that the close racing of the Next-Gen car creates. It’s important to take a look at those positives instead of looking at every negative associated with the cars being closer together.

The Good Things the Close Racing of the Next-Gen Car Creates

What the Next-Gen car does create is incredible parity the likes of which we have never seen before. Race teams like Front Row Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, RFK Racing, and others have been able to improve by leaps and bounds partially because of the incredible parity that the Next-Gen car creates. The 2022 season tied for the most winners in a season in NASCAR history thanks to the parity brought forth by the Next-Gen car.

The closer nature of the racing has also improved the product on certain race tracks. Intermediate tracks that were once loathed by the fanbase became fan-favorites, and the closer racing of the Next-Gen cars was a large reason why. The lead cars are not able to drive away quite as much, and the multiple grooves of these types of tracks allow drivers to get out of the dirty wake of the Next-Gen cars.

Some may argue that the Next-Gen car is too close, but, the racing has not been all bad by any means. The closeness of the racing has created exciting moments, and it has increased the competition at the sport’s highest level.

The Balancing Act

That’s the balancing act that NASCAR has to try to figure out. At what point does the racing become too close to where drivers cannot pass? However, if they go too far the other way, the cars become too spread out and the racing becomes not very compelling just because there is no fight for the win.

The Next-Gen cars have definitely swung to the closer side of the pendulum, but is it too far? If NASCAR makes some changes, they will have to think of the consequences of those changes. The fans need to think of those consequences as well.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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