Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: Is NASCAR Parity with the Next Gen Really Wearing Off?

Did You Notice?… The NASCAR Cup Series parity with the Next Gen car may be fading away? A car that has been hailed for its ability to increase competition on intermediate tracks and give underdogs a chance to win has instead seen its wealthiest, most-established teams rise to the top of the charts thus far in 2024.

Just two organizations, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, have combined to capture eight of the first nine events. The only outlier is Daniel Suarez of Trackhouse Racing, who earned a victory by inches in a pack race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which typically gives more drivers a chance to win.

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Dropping the Hammer: Chase Elliott Takes Hooters Back to Victory Lane

That dominance by HMS and JGR extends out to laps led. Seven of the eight drivers who have led 120 laps or more this season are from those two organizations; Joey Logano, the lone outlier, is a two-time defending Cup champ from Team Penske.

Together, HMS and JGR make up half the 16 playoff spots on the grid. Penske is right behind those two, taking up two more positions with Ryan Blaney and Logano, respectively. 23XI Racing and Trackhouse take up four more spots, in playoff position with both of its full-time cars and drivers.

The final two postseason slots are currently with Stewart-Haas Racing (Chase Briscoe) and RFK Racing (Chris Buescher). That gives you a total of seven individualized teams currently in the postseason with no one else anywhere close. Legacy Motor Club, the first new team outside playoff position, sits 38 points behind in 19th with Erik Jones.

Denny Hamlin expanded on the evolution of the Next Gen competition this past weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

“The day of the mid-tiers popping up and winning races,” he said, “it could happen, certainly. But it’s really down to six or seven guys that are really going to win most of the bulk of them.”

Is Hamlin right? How lopsided, really, are things right now in year three of the Next Gen era?

The answers are more mixed than you might think.

NASCAR Next Gen Stats

Through 9 Races

YearDifferent
Winners
Organizations In
Playoff Position
Drivers With
120+ Laps Led
2022866
2023797
2024678

As you can see, in the first year of the Next Gen, turns out the parity was even worse. People forget that early in 2022, HMS, JGR and Penske had all 11 of its drivers in playoff position – more than those teams have now. Just like in 2024, three of four HMS drivers had a victory and it looked like Hendrick was the most formidable team on the circuit.

But who won the title that year? None other than Logano and Penske. One of the Championship 4 drivers that year, Christopher Bell, was barely a blip on the radar screen, holding onto 16th in points after nine races. It just goes to show you how quickly things can change in this sport.

With that said… it’s notable someone like Hamlin, who owns one of those mid-tier organizations capable of winning races, is speaking out so openly about the competition gap. It helps feed into a perception that HMS and JGR just are so much better than everyone else.

But a closer look at the individual races says that’s not always the case, at least at the pack-racing tracks. It was the Ford of Logano that led the most laps (45) in a topsy-turvy Daytona 500. Third-year driver Todd Gilliland, part of mid-tier Front Row Motorsports, led a career and race-high 58 laps the following week at Atlanta.

The key, then, for some of these other teams is to claw back through opportunities where all teams are on equal ground, like this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Ford is overdue for its first win of 2024 and drivers like Gilliland, Michael McDowell and Brad Keselowski will be well positioned to cash in.

See also
Brad Keselowski Falls One Spot Short of 1st Win in 107 Races

Speaking of… Keselowski came up just short of a win at Texas, finishing second. Ross Chastain of Trackhouse had a shot after starting on the front row for the final restart. Last week at Martinsville Speedway, Bubba Wallace had the best finish of his season (fourth). So there are still drivers from other teams hanging around.

It seems a little early, then, to say this season will be limited to a select few. There’s still plenty of time to go with new tracks like Iowa Speedway on the schedule and wild cards like the Chicago street course to shake things up.

But if everyone else is going to make gains against HMS and JGR… they better start soon.

Did You Notice?… Quick hits before taking off…

  • Lost in the chaos of that Texas finish was the first top 10 of rookie Carson Hocevar’s Cup career. That came after a mid-race spin, an impressive comeback to leave him the top freshman overall (22nd in points) nine races in. He’s the first rookie out of the four to earn a top 10 this year.
  • It’s nice for NASCAR to have Jimmie Johnson around, racing part-time as a seven-time champion with a strong following. However, his moonlighting tour is becoming reminiscent of other Hall of Fame drivers, like Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott, who kept coming back only to run in the back. The hope is Johnson will learn the Next Gen with more reps, but so far? The results just haven’t come (no top-25 finishes in five starts in the past two years).

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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MikeinAZ

Of course it’s wearing off. Hendrick drivers have already won 5 of 9 races this year. It’s looking like it’s going to be a long season watching the Hendrick drivers stink up the show, again.

Last edited 1 month ago by MikeinAZ
Echo

DW won 2 races in his last 12 years Cup driving. I think he wins the hang around award.

wildcatsfan2016

I didn’t realize that DW only won 2 races in 12 years. I realize that it would be hard to retire but it would also be hard to be an also ran when you are used to winning.

Jeremy

According to Wiki, when he left Hendrick in 1991 he won 2 races, and followed that up in 1992 with 3 more wins (his last 3). He retired after the 2000 season.

But yeah, I remember in 1998 when he used the Past Champions Provisional so often we started referring to the 43rd starting spot as the “DW Position”. NASCAR changed qualifying rules in 1999 to limit use of the Past Champions Provisional as a result, and DW logged several DNQ’s that year.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jeremy
Shayne

Lest we forget, then ole DW starting buying rides from the start and park teams.

Echo

Your right. Racing reference has DW not winning a race in his last 8 years but won 3 in 1992 if they still had the past champion provisional DW would still be racing. .

Echo

I was wrong. Racing reference says DW didn’t win a race in his last 8 years but he won 3 races in 1992.

gbvette

Even in a spec car series (which NASCAR is rapidly becoming) some teams always figure out how to be more “even” than others. Parity can only ever be short lived. Teams like Hendrick, Penske, and Gibbs have the money to find little advantages that smaller, poorer teams can’t. The big teams having 3 or 4 cars helps them learn more and get better faster, than 1 and 2 car teams can because they have twice as many drivers and cars to pull information from. Without any test days and limited race weekend practice, the big teams have the advantage of more drivers and crews to work with to find the best set up faster than smaller teams can. Extended practices were eliminated in an effort to save money which in theory should help smaller teams, but while the reduced amount of practice may help smaller teams save money, it also hurts them because they don’t have the resources to make up for that reduced track time in engineering and simulations.

MikeinAZ

One thing that Nascar could do to even up the competition is go to one single engine builder for all of the teams. I thought that was going to be one of the requirements for the next gen car, but I guess not.

Last edited 1 month ago by MikeinAZ
wildcatsfan2016

I completely disagree, Mike. I don’t want another “NASCAR” produced item in the cars.

MikeinAZ

If all of the engines are as equal as possible when it come to torque and horsepower and they’re reliable, I don’t see anything wrong with that. The reason for the next gen car was to put all teams on an equal footing and I think that equivalent engines in every car would move them closer to that goal.

Last edited 29 days ago by MikeinAZ
WJW Motorsports

Totally agree, but why stop there? Let’s simply declare every race a 40+ car tie for first, and that way everything is equal and nobody’s feelings get hurt. We can have a nice 2 hour parade at pace car speed to see all the schemes. Then of course overtime to wreck 25 cars or so – but still everyone gets same points and all.. It would be NASCAR/France bliss. Who likes actual competition anyway?

MikeinAZ

How about let’s not be ridiculous, like you are. Taking my comment and turning it into your solution is crazy.

What’s wrong with wanting to see competitive racing versus money bags Hendrick and Gibbs wining 8 of 10 races like they have this year?

Last edited 26 days ago by MikeinAZ
Bill B

The only way to create parity is to introduce a new car every two or three years. Over time the teams with the most resources will always gain an advantage.

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