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How Bad is the Short Track Package?

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The Next-Gen car has been a major topic of controversy throughout most of its’ life, but arguably the biggest reason why is because of the short track package. The short track package has left a lot to be desired with this car, but, how bad is it really? Let’s take an in-depth look at the Next-Gen car’s short track product to see how bad it really is.

Fan Reaction

Now, there is no real metric to show whether or not a race was objectively good or objectively bad. The definition of “good racing” varies from person to person, but, we can estimate what fans think of the product. A metric we have for that is Jeff Gluck’s “Was it a Good Race?” poll. For the sake of this article, we will consider “Short tracks” as any track at 1 mile or less.

In 2023, short track races have averaged a 57.1% on the poll, compared to a 70.8% average in 2022. It’s also worth noting that of all races to score below a 50% in 2023, three of the six are short track races.

The Gen-6 car, unlike the current car, was highly praised for its’ short track product. In 2021, short tracks averaged 75.2% on the poll, and in 2020, short tracks averaged 68.3% on the poll. It is also worth noting that only one short track race scored below 50% over the course of both of those seasons, and that was the 2020 Richmond race.

Now, the vast majority of people can see that a lot of people do not like the current short track package. However, this puts some numbers to that hypothesis, and it shows that people are seemingly growing more weary of the current short track product.

The Racing Itself

Again, it is impossible to show a metric for what constitutes “good racing”, but we can estimate based on certain rough statistics. Racing Reference keeps track of lead changes, so let’s analyze that.

In 2022, short track races averaged 11.6 lead changes per race compared to 13.6 lead changes per race in 2023. In the final two years of the Gen-6 era, the average was 17.9 lead changes per race in 2021 and 17.8 per race in 2020. The short track races with the Next-Gen car have generally been less competitive at the front, but, it seems things have somewhat improved in 2023.

Racing Reference also keeps track of on-track passes, but, these can be taken with a grain of salt because of how hard it is to truly keep track of how many passes happen during a race. Here are a couple of points of comparison.

The Martinsville race back in the spring of 2023 had 5.8 passes per green flag lap according to Racing Reference. Meanwhile, the spring race at Martinsville in 2021 averaged only 5.0 passes per green flag lap. Both the spring and fall Richmond races averaged over 10 passes per green flag lap in 2023, but the 2021 races averaged only 6.6 in the spring and 7.5 in the fall all according to Racing Reference.

So, what gives? Again, green flag passes are a very rough statistic, but lead changes are clear-cut. If it seems to be improving based on these metrics, then why is it that these races are being continually disliked by fans?

It has to do with optics and the way the race looks on TV. Maybe there is more passing technically happening on track, but, we can all see how difficult it is to pass on track. It’s also worth noting that lead changes does not take into account how many of these happened under green flag passes or just pit cycles.

Some things just cannot be proven with numbers, and the issues with the short track product are one of those. The bottom line is that the fans are not enjoying the current product. As long as the fans are not entertained, then it is hard to say that the short track product is not in a bad place.

Now, the fans are not the be-all end-all, but the drivers even admit that it is harder to pass on short tracks. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has talked about it on his podcast before.

It’s one of those things that just cannot be quantified. The Next-Gen short track product is a problem, and it needs to be fixed. Regardless of what metrics may say. Maybe Bristol this weekend will prove to be a move forward for the short track package.

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