If you’ve ever had the urge to bang your head against the wall or scream out loud, even in an empty room, “Are you kidding me?!” then you know what it’s like to cover NASCAR.
And that has never been more relevant or reoccurring then over the last few months. Why? Two words: Next Gen. NASCAR’s next-generation race car, the seventh iteration of what will compete on the Cup Series circuit, will bring the sport into the modern era. Independent rear suspension will be incorporated in the new car, along with bigger brakes and a bigger tire. In the cockpit, drivers will use a sequential shifter, which is one of the most radical changes to the car, and yet one that has flown under the radar when it comes to the list of complaints.
Oh, yes, the complaints. They don’t go unnoticed.
So, let’s address what has brought about the latest round of headbanging and disbelief: a decision to go with a single, center-locking lug nut.
One lug nut. Not five. One. Lug nuts.
It took mere seconds from when the announcement was made for the wide-ranging explosion to happen. NASCAR keeps going in the wrong direction! This isn’t IndyCar! Why do they keep taking the ‘stock’ out of stock car?
Reality check time.
‘NASCAR’ might stand for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, but there hasn’t been anything ‘stock’ about NASCAR in decades. Such a belief should have been removed from the complaint box a long, long time ago.
In getting back to Next Gen, what an appropriate name. A new generation of race car is coming, and bringing with it the next generation of technology for the sport to compete. Change is coming whether you like it or not, and for anyone who considers themselves a realist must admit that everything evolves. Even your favorite sport, which cannot survive by remaining in the past. Saying “this is how it’s always been” is not a valid reason to keep doing something.
“I like the car; I think it’s really cool,” said seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus after the Fontana test. “It’s definitely taking a step in the right direction in terms of modern motorsports, so I think that’s great.”
Once upon a time, NASCAR was a southern sport with good ol’ boys. It grew into a national pastime with champions who now hail from North Carolina to New Jersey to California. Drivers used to smoke in the cars and wear open-faced helmets. Now the cars are safer while the rules are stricter. Formats and schedules have undergone facelifts, all because NASCAR wants to stay relevant and do what they believe is best for the stakeholders.
With Next Gen, the sport embarks on the most significant change in its history and for all the same reasons. Change is necessary. Didn’t the NFL once use leather helmets?
Yes, NASCAR is going to run a new car next season. It is going to feature many new components, including a single lug nut. As cliché as it sounds – the world is not ending, and the sky is not falling.
The viewing experience not dramatically altered. Pit crews will continue to be as valuable as ever. The cars are still going to turn left or right on occasion, and drivers will continue to search for a hole where none exists. There is going to be the joy of victory and agony of defeat.
NASCAR is still going to be NASCAR, it’s just going to look a little different, and that’s OK. Besides, won’t you be happy not to have to read about crew chiefs getting fined for loose lug nuts beginning next year?