Thursday, May 30, 2024
HomeNascar Cup SeriesThe Five: NextGen Wows at Auto Club Speedway

The Five: NextGen Wows at Auto Club Speedway

By Tyler Head

Kyle Larson won Sunday’s Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California to capture his first win of 2022 and 11th win in just 38 points races with Hendrick Motorsports. The defending series champion visiting victory lane ended up being pretty low on the totem pole of stories after an action packed 400 miles.

Hard to Handle

When NASCAR announced in the offseason that the NextGen Cup cars would run the 670 horsepower/4 inch spoiler package at all non-superspeedways, many fans were excited. I was so excited that I legitimately was looking forward to the race at Auto Club more than the Daytona 500. Finally, after three years of wide open ‘slot car’ racing at intermediates we were going to see the return of Cup cars that were constantly on the razor’s edge and hard to drive. A laundry list of incidents in Saturday’s combined practice and qualifying session set the tone for a chaotic day on Sunday. Drivers were spinning out on their own and constantly fighting their cars on Auto Club’s worn asphalt. The tires were falling off, a number of drivers found themselves in the mix for the lead at some point during the day, and the winner was in doubt until the final turn and checkered flag. That is everything I desire in a stock car race. 

New Faces Up Front

One of the big selling points for the NextGen car was the promise of more parity throughout the field. If Sunday was an indication of what’s to come, that promise will be fulfilled. Looking at the top 10 finishers, they represent nine different Cup series teams. Tyler Reddick, driving for Richard Childress Racing who has won a mere four races in the past eight seasons, dominated the race leading 90 of 200 laps before a blown tire ended his day. Erik Jones, driving for the newely formed Petty GMS Racing, went toe-to-toe with Reddick all day long and very well could’ve won had the race gone a few more laps. And lastly Daniel Suarez, driving for Team Trackhouse in its second year of existence, took the lead from Larson on the final restart and was one missed block away from winning his first race. It certainly appears the usual suspects up front will have new company at the table.

Back to the Drawing Board

If you were a Toyota fan, Sunday wasn’t fun for you. The four Joe Gibbs Racing and two 23XI Racing Camrys failed to make any noise at the front of the field. Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell suffered from overheating issues early and Bell would wind up dead last after spinning out just shy of half way. Busch spun as well and had to claw back from several laps down to finish 14th. Martin Truex Jr. appeared to spend his entire race stuck between 12th and 15th before ending up 13th. Denny Hamlin at least made appearances in the top 10 throughout the race, earning Toyota its lone stage point on the day, before falling to 15th to complete a JGR trio. Kurt Busch was the lone Toyota in the top 10 at races end, but that was a surprise as he spent most of the race around 20th it seemed. His teammate Bubba Wallace fought ill handling day before getting wrapped up in a multi-car wreck and coming home 19th.

Friendly Fire

Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson likely won’t be having dinner together anytime soon. Elliott had a tough day, but on the penultimate restart with just over 20 to go he lined up on the front row with Chase Briscoe. Neither car had fresh tires and they were quickly swallowed up by the likes of Larson and Joey Logano once the green was out. Despite his old rubber, Elliott made a bold move for the lead the following lap going into turn 1 as he took the 5 and 22 three wide on the outside. Larson moved up at the last second and Elliott slapped the wall and proceeded to sink like a rock. The 9 would bring out the day’s final yellow when he spun by himself and was regulated to a 26th place result. Larson claimed to have not seen the 9 on his outside, but Elliott’s profanity laced tirade on the radio leads me to believe he’s not going to accept that answer.

Falling Flat

Everything about the NextGen car seems great so far, with one glaring exception. Due to the cars sitting so low and the lack of inner liner in the tire, what was once a simple spin has now become a day killer if a driver’s tires become flat. At that point the car is literally sitting in the ground and needs the assistance of a tow truck to get back to pit road as it can no longer roll independently. The tow truck is no safe haven though, as the towing process can severely damage the underbody of the car rendering it undrivable. Several drivers lost multiple laps or saw their day end all together thanks to what was once a harmless spin. I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but NASCAR must change something.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments

Pat Kilpatrick on NASCAR’S MOST WANTED…
Dana Flowers on NASCAR’S Most Dreaded
David Allen on NASCAR’S Most Dreaded