The most meticulously designed and intently controlled racecar in NASCAR history leveled the field in 2022.
The so-called Next Gen car resulted in 19 different winners over 36 races, including five first-timers and two guys who earned their first shot at a championship in the season finale. It provided more exciting racing at most tracks and may have helped improve attendance and television ratings.
Although the unpredictable season ended with a familiar face hoisting the trophy in Phoenix—Joey Logano won his second title with Team Penske—it also showed that anyone can win in stock car racing’s top series.
The biggest teams, the ones with the deepest pockets, no longer had clear-cut advantages like they did in previous decades. The best drivers didn’t have huge edges, either.
Winning came down to timing and luck as much as tuning and experience. Whether that carries over into 2023 remains to be seen. But the redesigned car could help lead to more national relevance and better long-term stability for one of racing’s most popular series.
“Before this year [and] the Next Gen car, you had to have a relationship with one of five race teams if you wanted to come into this sport. You had to,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in November. “This car changed that.”
Phelps pointed to the car’s styling and its relevance to those coming off assembly lines at Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. He noted the raciness of the car, saying there were more passes in the Cup Series than any single season before. And he insisted safety was the top priority for the car despite driver complaints regarding crashes.
“It’s a steep learning curve this year with this car,” said Logano’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe. “It’s something totally different than what we’ve obviously used in the past. … A lot of the things we did in the past really don’t work with this car.”
Logano and Wolfe figured it out quicker than most, winning a series-high-tying five times if you count the exhibition Clash to open the season at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“Boy, this year was an adventure, to say the least,“ Logano said. ”It’s just kind of crazy to think about it all. It was a tough grind of a year, and a lot of times you just felt lost. The only thing that helped me is I realized that everyone else was lost with me. That’s one way to stay confident is when you know everyone else is lost, too.”