Coming off a year where the Covid-19 pandemic caused chaos on their season, NASCAR billed the 2021 campaign as their “best year ever” long before the first green flag even was held in the flagstand. That season certainly lived up to the billing, with more winners, better action, and a champion that got redemption after being removed from his ride during the time the sport was on hiatus.
Entering 2022, the winds of change were already abundant. Immediately after the checkered flag waved at Phoenix last November, everything that was familiar for NASCAR was changing. The Gen-6 car was officially done with competition at the Cup level.
In it’s place, the two-year project of the NextGen machine. New aerodynamics, new driveline, a different suspension setup, even more modern, larger wheels and tires.
With it came criticism, as many didn’t think the car was ready with parts still not available due to shipping backlogs. Others still felt it needed more time to develop, so drivers and teams were comfortable with the new ways of how it handled, and how to make it better.
But now, 20 races have been completed, and 70 percent of those races have been won by different drivers.
That is more than any season up to this point in the last decade. Five of those winners got their first career win, including one in the biggest race of the season. Yet some say that it hasn’t been the best season for NASCAR? That’s a one-sided opinion.
The new car, sure it has it’s issues as was seen right away in the Busch Light Clash, but it’s also shown to be one of the toughest cars ever built. It’s been upside down, sideways, ripped apart, and yet it would still take contact and keep moving on as though nothing happened. A year ago, the car that was used would never be able to take that kind of abuse and keep going.
Add in the fact teams that many did not expect to win this year have not only done so, but have become powerhouses. Who among us thought that Trackhouse Racing would immediately find success?
At the same time, teams that are normally expected to be strong and challenging each week still are having issues in finding victory lane, or even consistency. Who would have guessed that an organization like Stewart-Haas Racing would only have one win among their four-car operation?
What NASCAR has to be worried about is a let down as the playoffs near, and even during the 10-race run to the title.
To an extent, that is what would’ve happened last year as the playoffs drew to the finish. Had anyone except Kyle Larson won that championship, there would’ve been a lot of criticism that the wrong driver won. However, can we clearly say who the right driver is at this point that can win the championship?
There’s no true favorite at this point, and that’s what makes it intriguing.
NASCAR has something special this season, and they need to capitalize on it each week. There’s not much time remaining until the post-season, and at this rate, the talk of about who is in and who is out is going to change not just week-by-week. It could nearly be a lap-by-lap discussion, even corner-by-corner.
As it stands, 2021 could be considered the year of resurgence for NASCAR. The 2022 season truly could be NASCAR’s best season ever.