Step 1: Be a Fan.
Last year, NASCAR marketed the season as “The Best Season Ever.”
Ahead of the uncertainty that a new generation of cars would bring this year, NASCAR wanted to have an unforgettable season. While the first half of the season had tremendous parody and saw seven different winners in the first seven races, it will ultimately be remembered as the season Kyle Larson dominated his competition on his way to his first championship.
This year seems to be different though, and I have said on the show multiple times this year already, now is the time to get (back) into NASCAR. The ‘Gen. 7’ car is a whole new animal for these drivers. I think in the last couple of years people have developed a negative view of the sport. Think about it, when was the last time you heard someone say, “All they do is turn left?”
What’s important to realize; many devout fans were beginning to feel the same way. NASCAR had added seven road courses in 2021, a huge step from the two that were on the schedule in 2017, to try and spice up the driving action. Other than those road courses, the drivers could just hold their foot on the gas without lifting for an entire race. The racing package for intermediate sized tracks was flawed and led to exactly that – drivers just turning left.
Outside of the opening race at Daytona, a superspeedway that can’t be changed much by different cars, we’ve seen an anomaly to start the year. There is no advantage for premiere teams this year. Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, and Kevin Harvick, who are all previous series champions, have all spun or even wrecked their cars in practice this year. No other cars involved, they just flat out wrecked.
The point to be found in that is; sometimes we need to be reminded that the sport is hard, even for the most experienced drivers. The beginning to this year has proved that. If you like to watch racing for crashes, there have been plenty already.
The new car is so wildly different that we’ve seen different contenders at the front. Parody. I’ve argued for years that the structure NASCAR had before – Three different drivers winning almost all the races – was not good for the sport (some people like the dominance and dynasty aspect of sports, I don’t). The competitiveness throughout the entire field is exactly what NASCAR hoped for with this new car. You can pick any driver on the grid this year and there is a very good chance they’ll win or contend for wins.
After four races, the top four drivers in laps led this season:
1. Ryan Blaney — 190
2. Chase Briscoe — 121
3. Tyler Reddick — 90
4. Ross Chastain — 83
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 14, 2022
New drivers at the front include: Daniel Suarez, NASCAR’s only Mexican driver. Ross Chastain, and Tyler Reddick. All drivers with great talent that was often over-shadowed by the pure dominance that other teams had under the hood. With the new car, we will see plenty of first-time winners.
One of those first-time winners emerged this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway when Chase Briscoe became the 200th different winner in Cup series history. The former Xfinity Series juggernaut won 9 races in 2020 and was given his big break at the highest level following the departure of Clint Bowyer from Stewart-Haas racing.
Chase Briscoe thought he was going to hit the wall as hard as he drove it on the final restart. His thoughts and the thoughts of crew chief Johnny Klausmeier on him driving the car to the brink in order to earn the win. pic.twitter.com/3ywlszqyaI
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) March 14, 2022
His rival in the 2020 season that narrowly beat him to the title that year, Austin Cindric, won his first career race to start the season at Daytona. The other two races, California and Las Vegas, were taken by the before mentioned Hendrick duo.
Finally, the last point to touch on. With a new generation car, comes new generation talent. Obviously Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe have already proven their mettle, but as a whole the sport is shifting (no pun intended). Dale Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon are all gone. The future is in the hands of the new popular drivers like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and Kyle Larson.
NASCAR has a changing identity. It’s a complete youth movement. With younger athletes will come a younger audience that can relate on a more personal level.
To sum everything up, NASCAR has changed a lot this year. The drivers are younger, the car is much harder to drive, and the content is as watchable as ever.
If you’re going to tune into the next broadcast, I suggest you don’t watch the pre-race show on FOX though. But… I’ll explain that next time.