Top NASCAR crew chief details the biggest issue with the NextGen car

The problem with parity is everyone drives the same inside identically prepared cars

In addition to being one of the most successful NASCAR Cup Series crew chiefs from the past half-decade, Chris Gabehart is also widely viewed as one of the smartest guys in any room he walks into.


So, when he speaks about big picture issues facing the sport, the industry tends to take notice and place a lot of consideration towards it. That was certainly the case this week the crew chief of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 appeared on the Happy Hour YouTube show with Kevin Harvick where the pair discussed the state of the current single source supplied car and how its parity has occasional come at the expense of race quality.

“When I look at the stated goal of parity, and that is every driver for every team can buy the same parts and have the same opportunity to go win a race, I think that’s a great stated goal,” Gabehart said. “The problem is physics gets in the way. And the car that’s leading is going to have an advantage over the car that’s in second and it’s quantifiable. And then so on and so forth throughout the rest of the field. If you can’t overcome that disadvantage, then what you’re actually doing is handcuffing all the drivers and all the teams into an execution battle. It simply becomes a race of quality control — Monday through Sunday.

“So, in my view what we’ve got to do is we got to make it harder. I think whether it’s more horsepower, smaller footprint on the tires which I think we could do by the way. All of the revisions that we’ve made to this car, how big a deal would it be to make a two-inch narrow wheel from the inside and make the footprint on the tire smaller. We simply have a horsepower grip ratio imbalance. Knocked out 100 horsepower. We went to a wider tire, went to independent rear suspension, we increased grip, decreased horsepower. That’s too easy for you. That’s too easy for the race teams. And therefore, the physics disadvantage from however you line up on the track given the scenario, is harder to overcome.”

Gabehart articulated pretty clearly what racers have said about this car from the moment that it made its debut in February 2022 — when every car is built, on paper, the same and they all go roughly the same speed, how does that encourage passing?

That is especially true on short tracks and road courses, where there is generally just one dominant groove and there is no way for a driver to overcome running the exact same lap times without some variability built into the competition product.

That’s why there has been so much talk this spring about multiple tire compounds, or an aggressively softer tire compound, anything to force drivers to do different things behind the wheel to create lap time disparity.

More horsepower would blow off the rear tires and create greater fall off and disparity, while also reducing corner speeds, opening up passing opportunities. It’s why that is such a popular refrain, and one that NASCAR just isn’t entertaining right now, for reasons the garage is not fully understanding of.

The larger tracks, especially those with multiple grooves do better with this car, because there is room for drivers to explore more ways to make speed while also overcoming the aerodynamic realities of the NextGen car.

Unfortunately, most short tracks and road courses do not offer that potential so barring a really aggressive tire or multiple tire compounds to create speed disparity, those races become track position affairs.

And because these cars make a ton of aero, a ton of grip and have largely minimal fall off, they’re also easier to drive in a lot of ways than any Cup Series car that preceded it.

“Now, you do see the best teams still finding their way forward,” Gabehart said. “It’s interesting, I take a survey every week of how you park in the garage. How you park in the garage every week kind of gives you a litmus test for how you are doing. I had two Hendrick cars to my left, one to my right, two Toyotas to the right of that one.

“Pretty telling that the best teams are still finding their way to the front. But the optics are that it is harder than ever to pass. And I think it’s just because it’s a little bit too easy.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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