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The Best AND Worst Races From the Gen-6 Era

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

Like most fanbases, NASCAR fans love romanticizing about the past, and thinking back to the “Good Old Days”. With how many issues the current Next-Gen car has, fans are looking back on the Gen-6 era with a lot of fondness, regardless of many of the issues this era had. These are the best and worst races from that era.

  • The Generation 6 car was designed to “Put the stock back in stock car racing”. Race teams and manufacturers were given more freedom to adjust the cars, compared to the COT era where the cars were essentially Spec.
  • The Gen-6 car had its’ shortcomings, particularly with the racing product on intermediate tracks and an astounding lack of parity. However, the car still produced some great moments, with its greatest strengths being short tracks and road courses.
  • Fans share a great deal of fondness for the high moments of the Gen-6. However, there were aspects of the era that fans did not enjoy.

No. 5 WORST – 2018 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway

Kentucky Speedway was on shaky ground with the fans heading into 2018. A questionable reconfiguration combined with the Gen-6 intermediate track package led to a lackluster 2017 race. The 2018 race took the already low bar and made it lower.

Martin Truex Jr. started on the pole and led 174 laps, and the track was only one groove. There was little passing throughout the field, and the race kept Kentucky on the wrong side of the fanbase. The track was gone from the schedule two years later.

No. 5 BEST – 2018 Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway

Overall, the Gen-6 struggled on intermediates, but, aging tracks like Chicagoland Speedway could produce some solid shows. The aging track surface led to tire wear, multiple grooves, and comers and goers. The race is known for the finish, but, 4 drivers led for at least 20 laps on this day with different winners in each stage.

The race came down to Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. Busch struggled to get through lapped traffic, and Larson caught him on the final lap. After an attempted slide-job by Larson in turn two put both in the wall, Busch nudged Larson out of the way in turn 3 to win the race.

No. 4 WORST – 2019 Bluegreen Vacations 500 at Phoenix

In 2019, NASCAR debuted the controversial 550 horsepower package across the entire schedule. The horsepower reduction killed the racing on flat, short tracks (sound familiar) as all races at Richmond and Martinsville combined for only 20 lead changes (5 per race). While not quite as short as these two, Phoenix suffered greatly in the fall race.

This was the elimination race in the Round of 8, and there were only 8 lead changes. Denny Hamlin took the lead on lap 177, and he was never passed for the lead on track again that day. Like the Kentucky race in 2018, there was little passing throughout the field, but, this race happened during the height of the Playoffs. An absolute dud for a race that normally delivered in the early Playoff era.

No. 4 BEST – 2018 Bank of America Roval 400 at the Charlotte Roval

With no real estate on the schedule to add more road courses, where Gen-6 excelled, NASCAR and SMI got creative in 2018. Take an intermediate track, and build a road course using the existing footprint. The Roval was born, and the first race was delivered.

It was the elimination race in the Round of 16, and Jimmie Johnson knew a win could get him into the Round of 12. He and Martin Truex Jr. spun in the final corner, handing the win to Ryan Blaney. Johnson lost too many spots and was eliminated. While some now view the Roval as redundant, at the time, it was just what NASCAR needed.

No. 3 WORST – 2016 Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at Indianapolis

This race at the Brickyard is the lowest-rated Gen-6 race in Jeff Gluck’s “Was it a Good Race?” poll. It’s the 3rd worst overall, only beaten by both Texas races in 2022. This race had a little bit of everything that fans hate about a bad race.

Kyle Busch led 149 of 170 laps, only losing the lead twice early thanks to an alternate strategy by the Penske camp. Busch led from lap 62 onwards, but, he had to contend with 4 cautions in the final 20 laps and 2 Overtime restarts. Busch was so dominant, that the Overtimes didn’t really add drama so much as they elongated the inevitable. Busch won by over 2 seconds, despite having only 2 laps to build the lead.

No. 3 BEST – 2017 First Data 500 at Martinsville

The Gen-6 was at its’ absolute best on short tracks, and the 2017 First Data 500 had a little bit of everything. There was attrition, tempers flaring, beating, and banging. As the opening race to the Round of 8, a Championship 4 berth was on the line.

The race got wild on a late restart where Chase Elliott bumped Keselowski out of the way before being dumped on the next lap by Denny Hamlin. Elliott confronted Hamlin after the race as Hamlin was treated to a chorus of boos from his home state fans. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch beat out Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap to win.

No. 2 WORST – 2013 Daytona 500

The 2013 Daytona 500 was hotly anticipated as the first points race of the Gen-6 era. However, drivers struggled to pass each other throughout Speedweeks, and those struggles reared their ugly heads on race day.

The race fell into a pattern of double-file restarts organized into single-file drafts in the long run. Drivers tried to make moves, but, they hadn’t figured out the new car yet. Jimmie Johnson won the race after a pretty underwhelming finish. While not the worst Daytona 500 in history, the fact that this was the curtain-raiser for the new car made it that much more underwhelming.

No. 2 BEST – 2019 Night Race at Bristol

Again, short tracks were this car’s bread and butter, and there may have been no better track in NASCAR in this era than Bristol Motor Speedway. 2019 was the last time the Bristol Night Race was held in its’ traditional, late August slot, and it delivered. It featured a late battle between one of NASCAR’s best and a plucky upstart.

It was anyone’s race as 8 different drivers led the field on this night, with no one leading more than 93 of the 500 laps. It came down to Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin on a long green flag run to the finish. The crowd was cheering for DiBenedetto, but, it was Hamlin who got the last laugh.

No. 1 WORST – 2020 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

This was when NASCAR fans were at the height of their frustration with the 550 package. Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano were battling late for the win at Kansas Speedway. Despite Harvick having the faster car, Logano’s air-blocking kept Harvick from taking the lead. The high downforce also meant the cars were essentially on rails, so, Logano didn’t bobble at all.

Fans were growing weary of this package at this point, but this was the final straw. The 550 package was forever disliked from here on out, and it made fans beg for the Next-Gen car to come sooner.

No. 1 BEST – 2013 Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway

Like the 2013 Daytona 500, context is important when considering this ranking. The Gen-6 car was off to a rough start with lackluster races and heavy criticism from drivers and fans alike to start the 2013 season. Then came the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

The final laps came down to Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, who both passed the dominant car of the day, Kyle Busch, on a late restart. The two seemed to forget that Busch was lurking, as they made contact on the last lap, allowing Busch to swing around them on the outside. For a car that struggled to start 2013, it needed a race like this, and it turned into an absolute classic race.

The Gen-6 era definitely had some high highs and some low lows. Regardless, it’s an era fans are learning to appreciate as time goes on.

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