Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: So Much for Next Gen Parity

Remember when the Next Gen car first rolled out and it seemed like almost anyone in the NASCAR Cup Series field could pop up and win a race?

Those days appear to be behind us.

In 2022, the first year of the Next Gen car, there were 19 different winners across nine different organizations. The first six races alone had six different victors from four teams.

See also
Bringing the Heat: Jerry Nadeau Talks Life After Racing, Pt. 1

In 2023, parity kind of remained the same. Last year featured 15 different winners from 10 teams. So there were less drivers triumphing, but one more team won. The opening six races had five victors from five different teams.

Now the parity is all but gone. There have been five different winners through the first six races once again, but they have come from just three teams.

And mega-teams Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing are clearly leading the charge, earning five of those six races. The only exception is Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is a drafting track where almost anyone can come out ahead. Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez won that race. JGR even took the checkered flag in the non-points-paying Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum via Denny Hamlin.

Despite having a car with parts supplied by outside vendors and the competition being closer than ever, Hendrick and Gibbs have still risen to the top. Many said when the Next Gen first came out that if you gave these big teams a few years with it, they would separate themselves from the pack once again, and that appears to have come to fruition.

Even if bad luck struck some of the winners of these races, those two teams still would’ve scored the majority of the races. Had the caution come out just a smidge later in the Daytona 500, Hendrick still wins with Alex Bowman. Had Hamlin had a tire go down late at Bristol Motor Speedway, Gibbs’ Martin Truex Jr. still gets the organization the win. Last week, had William Byron had a problem, JGR wins with Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs running behind him.

The only other team that could’ve won outside of Atlanta was 23XI Racing with Tyler Reddick, who nearly beat Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

This weekend, Cup heads to Richmond Raceway, where the most recent winner is RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher. But HMS and JGR have won every spring race at Richmond since 2018 (there was no spring race there in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Based on what we’ve seen on the short tracks so far this year, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if Gibbs were to emerge victorious once again this weekend.

But don’t give the championship trophy to Hendrick and Gibbs just yet. Despite the increased parity, the past two years, Hendrick has won 11 and 10 races while Gibbs earned six and eight races. Yet both years, the two mega-teams came home from Phoenix Raceway without the Cup trophy.

Yet the two teams seem way more dominant this year, and Bell was easily the best car in the first trip to Phoenix earlier this year. So it feels like the two organizations could run away with the season this time.

Should something else be done to add even more parity to the Cup field? That’s where the conversation gets divisive, because NASCAR has already done plenty to handicap what teams and crew chiefs can do to the cars.

See also
NASCAR Has an Easter History, But Should It Continue?

No matter what NASCAR throws at them, the big teams will find a way to overcome it through having more money and better manpower than the smaller organizations. When you have teams like Hendrick that aren’t even worried about turning a profit, there is only so much NASCAR can do to catch the other teams up to them.

I suppose NASCAR could introduce some sort of spending cap, but that would be incredibly difficult to enforce, and teams would still find a way around it. The only thing NASCAR could really do to have a completely equal field is provide the cars to the teams each race weekend like the Camping World SRX Series and IROC did, but that would take all the ingenuity that the sport was founded upon and cause fans to riot.

The truth is there is nothing wrong with the big teams dominating. Forty to 50 years ago, it was Petty Enterprises and Junior Johnson & Associates who had better funding and personnel than everyone else and dominated the series. During the boom of NASCAR in the 1990s and early 2000s, everything had to go perfect for a smaller team to beat Hendrick, Richard Childress Racing, Roush Racing and Robert Yates Racing.

If anything, we’re lucky to have had teams like 23XI and Trackhouse emerge to give the big teams greater competition each week.

Having gaps in the competition actually improves the racing product. When the entire field is only separated by a few tenths of a second speed-wise, you don’t get as much lapped traffic, which grants the leader more clean air than ever and the ability to dominate an entire race.

Instead of bridging the gaps between teams, NASCAR should instead worry about making the result more about a driver’s skill and less about the car. Hamlin felt his Bristol win this year was more rewarding than a lot of his wins because the driver had more to do with the performance due to the extreme tire wear.

Add more tire wear other places and increase horsepower and NASCAR will find more of the parity it seeks by way of the best driver on that given Sunday finding success, instead of the team that unloads the fastest.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

9 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
sb

Perhaps a partial answer would be to allow more creative leeway to the teams. Yes, the Mega teams would still have an advantage, but some of the ‘also rans’ might have that next gen Junior Johnson or Ray Everenham who could come up with unique solutions? Tightening the box just increases the advantage for big teams.

Tom

I think NASCAR should put some sort of handicap on the HMS teams and all Chevy teams. For the most part on non-drafting tracks, Chevy has a big advantage when leading. There’s something about the front of the Camaro that causes more drag to a trailing car. It was noticeable last week at COTA. Bell had the better car but when he got close to Byron, he couldn’t gain anymore on him.

wildcatsfan2016

Parity is a pain in the, well, neck since we’ll keep it family friendly. I’d rather see NASCAR go back to allowing the teams to select gearing, etc. rather than providing “kit” cars in many ways. That has produced IMO boring racing.

Shayne

Parity my butt. NASCAR is for sale to the highest bidder. Right now, Toyota seems to have the deepest pockets.

MikeinAZ

Not sure if I’d go that far. Hendrick has won 3 of 6 races so far.

Bob

Back in the early days of NASCAR the engine builders (and others) would work to get the parts tolerances to line up where they wanted and create an advantage that way. Is that part of what we see now? The larger teams have enough hardware and manpower now to be able to select what they think is best? Sometimes they guess right, sometimes not?

MikeinAZ

Hendrick has already won 3 of 6 races. That doesn’t give me much hope for the rest of the year.

DoninAjax

Parity means EVERY car has an equal chance to win. NOT A CHANCE!

Shayne

5 Toyotas entered in the Xfinity race. 4 Toyotas finish Top 4. Creed had mechanical issues and finished 35th.

Parity is a term NASCAR uses to make sponsors feel good about throwing their money down the drain.

Share via