At 2022 Daytona 500, NASCAR’s Next Gen cars getting positive reviews … for the most part – ESPN
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — As Daytona Speedweeks (OK, it’s actually Speedweek now) have reached full speed leading into Thursday night’s dual 150-mile qualifying races, everyone in the Cup Series garage seems to agree that NASCAR’s newly christened rides, the so-called Next Gen machines, were needed. OK, they agree for the most part.
Everyone also concurs, for the most part, that the new cars look pretty cool. They are in agreement, for the most part, that their new Camaros, Mustangs and Camrys are more durable than their predecessors and that they put more control into the gloves of the drivers and less inside the laptops of the engineers.
The inhabitants of the paddock are even willing to admit, for the most part, that the modernization that has come with these cars was way overdue. Like, decades overdue. The Gen 6 machines that were sent to the racing retirement village at the end of the 2021 season were, at their metal cores, not much different from Gen 2, dating back to 1967.
But as the planet’s premier stock car racing series has emerged from its admittedly restless winter hibernation, there is no “for the most part” attached to one aspect of the Next Gen debut discussion.
“It’s just, well, it’s kind of weird, man,” explained Michael McDowell, who will race Sunday as the defending Daytona 500 champion, one year removed from one of the biggest upset victories in the 64-year history of the Great American Race, driving for midtier Front Row Motorsports.
“Don’t misunderstand me. I think these cars are great. As a driver for a team that has never had the budget or resources of the big guys, I am for the effort to cut costs and maybe level the playing the field a little. But when you walk into the race shop or even into the garage this week, the vibe is just, yeah, it’s just different.”
Defending Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell said it’s “weird” experiencing the vibe in the race shop and garage this year. Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Another Daytona 500 champion was a bit more succinct.
“I think we all like the new cars,” said three-time winner Denny Hamlin, who drives for one of those superteams, Joe Gibbs Racing, but co-owns Team 23XI, a new organization that is still trying to keep up. “I think we all just wish that we had more of them.”
That’s the weird part. The dramatically smaller number of race cars, at home and on the road.
Walking through the massive headquarters of multiple NASCAR teams throughout January and February, the sparseness has been striking. At places like Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Gibbs, where for years there used to be dozens of cars in various states of preparation on the floor at any given time, many for races that were months away, now there is only one car sitting there, maybe two. Seeing more than that is as likely as seeing Chase Elliott or Ryan Blaney riding through those race shops atop a unicorn.
Gone too is a lot of the shop’s trademark noise and bustle. Unfortunately, whenever measures are taken to cut costs, that also means cutting people. The need for scores of fabricators and engineers is not what it was just one season ago.
Hendrick Motorsports even pulled out a handful of older, retired race cars and parked them on the shop floor just to make the place look and feel normal. As …….