The Round of 16 cutoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17 played out in a surprising way. Multiple NASCAR drivers had significant tire issues while others saw their night end due to a mechanical failure. Now they are ready for some improvements.
The drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing were fairly vocal, both in person and on social media. Martin Truex jr. brought up Kevin Harvick’s past comments about “crappy parts” while Denny Hamlin called for Next Gen 2.0. Though drivers from other teams also chimed in while mentioning that there were only two green flag passes in 500 laps.
“Passing was just impossible,” Hamlin told NBC Sports after the race. “It was just a type of day where you needed to stay up front at all costs and we just couldn’t quite do it and ended up having a blown tire that set us back and we were trying to play catch up from that point.
“…I would like to see the racing improve overall. Some lap time variation a little bit. We’re just running around there and it’s like we’re running faster in the corners than we are on the straightaways. Just extremely hard to pass. We had some steering issues, and it looks like our Toyota teammates also had steering issues.”
Brad Keselowski Took a Different Approach
Like Hamlin, Brad Keselowski took on a new role in the NASCAR Cup Series. He joined Roush Fenway Racing as a driver-owner, and the team became RFK Racing. He has continued to suit up for races each week while also taking on more responsibilities inside the organization.
Keselowski is well aware of the issues with the Next Gen car, but he provided a slightly different take than some of his peers. He met with media members at Bristol Motor Speedway and said that there are currently two camps in NASCAR. One believes that everything is awful regarding the new cars. The other believes that the Next Gen era is perfect. Keselowski is in the middle.
“Would I like to see us continue to work on the cars? Absolutely,” Keselowski said after the race. “I’ve said this to NASCAR and I’ve said it to the media before and I’ll say it again. If the Next-Gen car looks the same as it does this year then we’ve failed. We should continue to grow, we should continue to learn, we should continue to make it better.
“There’s probably some car owners that don’t want to hear it because it costs money to change the cars, but like anything, when you create something new like the Next-Gen car, there’s going to be things that are optimized and there’s going to be things that aren’t.
“I think there’s opportunities to continue to make this car better and the racing better with it. I think it’s still a step forward from where we were in a lot of ways. I think we’ve seen some great racing because of that great parity.”
Kyle Busch’s Opening Round Was Full of Unexpected Problems
One of the drivers that experienced the most issues during the playoffs was Kyle Busch. The two-time Cup Series champion had speed, but his results did not reflect these on-track performances.
The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway was a fitting example. Busch was in the lead during the final stage, but his engine failed while making laps under caution. He had to head to the hauler while Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin battled for the win. Busch then finished 26th at Kansas Speedway after a late spin.
Busch experienced similar issues at Bristol Motor Speedway. He had speed once again, and he was able to lock up points in Stages 1 and 2. However, a significant engine failure ended his day once again and sent him to the hauler. He ultimately missed out on a spot in the Round of 12 due to two points.
The blown engines are not exactly a Next Gen issue. Toyota builds the engines which go into the No. 18, No. 19, No. 20, No. 23, No. 45, and No. 11 Toyota Camrys. These problems just further serve as examples of Busch’s run of bad luck during the 2022 season.
“It just goes with our year. I don’t even know what to say,” Busch told NBC Sports after exiting the race. “I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. They work too hard. We are too good of a group to be this low — down on the bottom, fighting for our lives just to make it through. Two engine failures in three weeks, that will do it to you.”