The Next-Gen car is now two years into its’ life, and there have been plenty of highlights and lowlights. How has the Next-Gen car done in terms of not only the product on track but also some of the original objectives that it was intended for?
The Racing Product
This is likely the most important grade to fans when it comes to the Next-Gen car. While the racing product has been far from perfect, it’s fair to say there has been more good than bad. The intermediate track product is the best it ever has been, and the superspeedway product, while not perfect, is still very competitive.
Short tracks and road courses are this car’s Achilles heel. However, NASCAR seemed to make some strides late in the season on short tracks with compelling races at Martinsville and Phoenix. On top of that, not every road course race has been awful. While Watkins Glen and Sonoma left a lot to be desired, the Chicago Street Race, COTA, and even Indianapolis were solid races. It’s not perfect, but the bad should not outweigh all of the good.
Competition is at a higher level than the sport has ever seen. Race teams like 23XI Racing, Trackhouse, and Front Row Motorsports are reaching heights that previously seemed unlikely. There were also 19 different winners in 2022 backed up by 15 different winners in 2023.
The racing is closer than it ever has been before, and almost every race team can roll into a race track on a given weekend knowing they have a chance to win a race. The field is much closer together than it was during any of the Gen-6 era, but it’s not so close to where the cream cannot rise to the top. This was one of the goals of the Next-Gen car, and it succeeded with flying colors.
The 2022 season was less than stellar at best when it came to the safety of the Next-Gen car. In 2023, there have definitely been improvements, but, there have also been some disappointments. Concussions were an issue in 2022 with both Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch suffering from them, and Noah Gragson suffered from a concussion after an accident at Gateway this year.
On top of that, Kyle Larson was t-boned by Ryan Preece at Talladega which opened up the passenger side of Larson’s car like a can. Preece’s window net ripped during his flip at Daytona in August, but he did not miss any times with no major injuries reported. However, NASCAR also made great strides by increasing the crush zones of the car, and driver injuries became far less common in 2023. The improvements made give the car a passing grade for now, but, they will be tested next year.
The durability of the Next-Gen car has, again, been a mixed bag. On one hand, the cars are tougher to damage when they hit walls, which allows them to be used up a bit more than the old cars could. However, the Next-Gen car was categorized as too durable when it first came out, and the lack of crush zones caused safety concerns.
While the, what Kevin Harvick termed as “Crappy-Ass Parts” issues seem to have been resolved mostly, there were some issues with brake rotors at places like Gateway in June. Still, the car does not see major engine failures or even mechanical failures quite as often as it once did, or car generations before it. It’s getting better, but, again, it is not perfect.
Attracting New OEMs to the Sport
A lot of the design philosophy of the Next-Gen car was to try to attract new manufacturers. There have been zero new manufacturers since the Next-Gen car was introduced. That is a massive black eye on the Next-Gen car.
Not only that but there seem to be no new manufacturers on the horizon for the Next-Gen car. For whatever reason, the car has not attracted new manufacturers in the way NASCAR hoped it would, and there is no silver lining for it.
Overall, the Next-Gen car has not been a complete success, but it has not been a complete failure either. It has made some great strides in the racing product and especially in the competition aspect of the sport. However, some other factors including safety and durability got off to a rocky start, and it will take time before the changes are fully trusted.
With that being said, there is room for improvement. However, it’s not been all bad.