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How the Next-Gen Car FIXED Intermediate Track Racing

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

The Next-Gen car has received universal praise for its racing product on intermediate race tracks. Tracks fans were once indifferent towards are now beloved. What caused this major shift?

  • The Next-Gen car works on intermediates due to two factors. One is the nature of intermediate tracks themselves, and the second is the nature of the Next-Gen car.
  • Where some other tracks struggle with the Next-Gen car, intermediates thrive. The very things that play into why short tracks and road courses struggle showcase why intermediates do well.
  • Fans love the racing product on intermediate tracks, and they now look forward to these races on the schedule. An unthinkable prospect just a few years ago.

The Nature of Intermediate Tracks

Intermediate track racing is a game of tug of war. Drivers can’t drive full throttle around the track like at Daytona and Talladega, but, the speeds are too high with too much aero-sensitivity to race closely with a lot of contact such as short tracks. Therefore, the size and speed of intermediate tracks naturally cause the cars to spread out.

How do tracks make the racing more compelling if the cars are more spread out? The answer is multi-groove racing.

Giving drivers options to race on multiple parts of the track allows them to make up time by simply driving. The high speeds also mean the cars are on the absolute edge of control, and each driver in each groove has to race the track just a bit differently. Intermediates just might be the best showcase of true driver skills.

However, there is a caveat to this. Due to the cars being more spread out on intermediates, cautions and restarts are, generally, less common than on other track types. This means that the fastest car can often ride off into the sunset with little to no resistance.

Without the benefit of extra caution flags, it’s easy for races to feel more drawn out, with the outcome seemingly decided well before the race ends. This is not necessarily a bad thing nor just an intermediate track thing, but, it can be tough to watch if it becomes a pattern.

This was especially prevalent in the Gen-6 era. For example. Kevin Harvick dominated back-to-back intermediate track races in the 2nd and 3rd races of the 2018 season, which was less than fun to watch.

The Next-Gen car plays into what intermediate track racing does well, while also mitigating some of the issues of intermediate track racing. Conversely, the nature of intermediate track racing plays into the Next-Gen car very well.

The Nature of the Next-Gen Car

The Next-Gen car was designed to bring the field closer together. While this can create issues at places like short tracks and road courses, it plays into intermediate track racing quite well.

The Next-Gen car has brought the field closer together on intermediates, which makes the racing more compelling. However, it’s not too close to where the cars cannot pass each other, such as the issue with short-track racing currently. At the same time, if there is a dominant car, they have enough of an advantage to earn the wins they deserve. The 2024 spring race at Las Vegas is a prime example of that perfect balance in action.

Where the Next-Gen car struggles the most is with following in dirty air. When a car gets in the wake of a car in front of them, it becomes difficult to impossible to pass or even get close to the car in front. However, intermediate tracks, by their nature, help to mitigate this issue.

As we already discussed, intermediate tracks are at their best when drivers can move around and race in multiple grooves. If a driver gets caught in dirty air, they can move up a lane or two and try to get around the car in front that way. This tug of war creates interesting battles that often last multiple laps. It’s like watching a high-speed game of chess.

The Next-Gen car fixed short-track racing by playing to the strengths of intermediate track racing, while also mitigating the weaknesses. It helps bring the field close enough together for a compelling product, but not too close to where it’s impossible to pass. The issue the car has with dirty air is mitigated by the nature of the intermediate tracks themselves. It just…works

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Joshua Lipowski

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