A New Era – 2022 Daytona 500 Preview


Joshua Tigges

The 2022 Nascar Season is ready to kick off. Picture: Chase Elliott 2020 Full Scale Championship helmet replica.

Joshua Tigges, Co-Editor of Photography and Multimedia

Green, green, green! Soon the green flag will drop on the highly anticipated 2022 Nascar Cup season as 40 hungry drivers barrel around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, in the 64th running of the Daytona 500. For 200 laps, drivers will be put to the test both physically and mentally as they face a complete new set of challenges this season. Not only does the schedule look drastically different from only two years ago, but the physical appearance of the sport has entered a new era. The thunderous roar that fuels fan’s veins will sound a little different this year as Nascar has completed the development of the “Next Gen” car. With this car aiming to level the playing field, the question becomes, will the stars of the sport remain at the top of the pilon? Or will sleeper drivers finally get their big break? The build-up to the 2022 season has quickly become the most anticipated racing year in the last decade, but some within the industry remain concerned about how the season could shake out. 

Having one of the longest seasons amongst the entire sporting industry, racing 38 weekends out of the year, the short three-month off-season did not feel like much of a break for many drivers and crew members. With the drastic new changes in the “Next Gen” car, data from previous years have rendered irrelevant and left teams scrambling for any opportunity they could get to understand the new systems Nascar has offered. However, teams were able to make tremendous progress through a variety of pre-season testing dates, which included Nascar settling on a high horsepower package. As reported on Nascar.com, a majority of the tracks (excluding superspeedways and Atlanta) will feature a 670 horsepower engine with a 4-inch rear spoiler, as compared to the 550 horsepower 8-inch spoiler ran for a majority of last season. This increased horsepower simultaneously brings lower downforce, making it easier to spin cars, attributing success more towards driver’s talent. While fans were elated to hear this announcement, teams remain worried if they will be prepared for the drop of the green flag this Sunday.  

Historically, teams have relied on the craftsmanship of their engineers and fabricators to produce dominating cars, but many jobs were put in question when Nascar announced that teams will not be responsible for building chassis for the “Next Gen.” In attempt to level the playing field, starting this season, teams are to purchase Gen 7 chassis from a third-party manufacture, approved by Nascar to fabricate the structures. These chassis arrive in sections of three (a front, middle, and rear) and are to be assembled by teams. Furthermore, Nascar is supplying certain components to these cars, leaving little room for teams to develop their own technological edge. With teams being restricted on what components they can manufacture (and a stricter penalty system for tampering), it will be interesting to see if the competitive edge dominating teams, like Hendrick Motorsports, have develop will continue to shine.    

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to many delays across all aspects of life, and Nascar has not been immune to these effects. From having to delay the debut of the “Next Gen” car to currently facing a supply chain shortage, teams are starting to walk a fine line on ensuring they have cars prepared for upcoming races. According to Fox Sports, about a month ago teams only had two cars prepared for the season when they were hoping to have five, and many may not reach that mark until the end of this month, well after the season has begun. With the inevitable “big one”, otherwise known as the Daytona 500, looming drivers who are not locked into the big race are in a bind. Having to race their way into the 500 during the duels on Thursday night, many drivers of underfunded teams must be aggressive to make the show but also cautious to protect the car. This is due to these teams only bringing a singular car to Florida, no backup, since they were only able to acquire the parts to build one car. The destruction teams will face after leaving the 500 could significantly affect their performance in upcoming races since the season get’s rolling right away, not having an off weekend until the weekend of June 18th.

Picture: Chase Elliott 2021 1/24th Napa Auto Parts scheme. (Joshua Tigges)

Even though superspeedway races, such as the Daytona 500, have become known as a “great equalizer,” there have been drivers consistently making quality runs and playing a factor at the end of these races. Although there are still many unknowns with how drivers will adjust to the new car, by viewing previous performances I believe there are some select drivers to look out for. When it comes to qualify, Chevrolet has dominated pole qualifying in recent years, winning the top starting spot since 2013. Based on raw speed and the number of Chevrolets in the field, Hendrick Motorsports has quality cars that could be real contenders this year. Finishing second in the 500 last year, maybe Chase Elliott can one-up that spot this year. It would be a discredit to his talent though not to include Denny Hamlin in this list. In his last 8 attempts at the 500, Hamlin has finished outside of the top-5 only once, with three of those years capturing the checkered flag. Needless to say, it would not be a surprise if the Joe Gibbs Racing #11 FedEx Camry is leading the pack at the end of the race.  

While there is skill involved in making it to the end of these types of races, you must have a certain amount of luck on your side as well. Due to the high speeds and importance of the draft, any driver who takes the green flag stands a chance at hoisting the Harley J. Earl trophy. We saw this last year with Michael McDowell capturing his first win in 358 starts, and the first win for the team in five years. There is never a driver you can truly count out, so keep and eye on drivers like Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones who are hungry to prove their place in the sport and elevate their mid-pack performances from last season.  

From driver changes to expanding teams and throw a new car on top of the pile… the anticipation for the 2022 season is unlike anything I have felt before. It truly is a new era in Nascar as the industry looks to expand to new markets and bring a new frontier to the sport. It all kicks off Sunday with the drop of the green flag at 1:30 cst on FOX. The “Next Gen” car, a new beast drivers hope to tame as they try to emerge victorious in the Great American Race.