NASCAR is a sport based on speed, as it is the goal for every team to boast a faster car than their opponents. However, speed is just part of the game, and you may have sometimes noticed slower speeds associated with the Next Gen car. Therefore, you may wonder if NASCAR is getting slower.
NASCAR is getting slower because the sanctioning body wanted the Next Gen car to create better racing, and this did not necessarily mean the cars had to be faster or as fast as before. Instead, a revamped aerodynamics and downforce package created slower cars, but more competitive racing.
Below, we will explain whether the NASCAR Next Gen cars are slower. We will also reveal pole speeds from five of the most popular tracks over the years, and from the Daytona 500, which will give you a good look at today’s speeds compared to those in the past.
Are NASCAR Next Gen Cars Slower?
NASCAR Next Gen cars are slower at some tracks than the Gen 6 car, but the Next Gen is also faster at others. The Next Gen car is even faster at some tracks than the cars from the 1990s and 2000s, although the Next Gen car is generally a little slower than its predecessors.
When NASCAR set out to create the Next Gen car, they did not seek to create a car that was faster than the Generation 6 model. Instead, with declining ratings and attendance throughout the 2010s, NASCAR needed to improve their racing product and also improve safety. When it came to the Next Gen car, it meant creating the best possible racing product, not the fastest.
When NASCAR unveiled the Next Gen cars, their top speeds were slower overall. This was something we saw at the fastest tracks on the circuit like Daytona and Talladega, where practice and qualifying times were significantly slower than their Generation 6 predecessors. However, the Next Gen cars are not universally slower than the Generation 6 cars.
Comparing 2019 & 2022 NASCAR Pole Speeds
|Daytona||194 mph / 312 kph||181 mph / 291 kph||– 13 mph / 21 kph|
|Las Vegas||180 mph / 290 kph||183 mph / 295 kph||+ 3 mph / 5 kph|
|Phoenix||141 mph / 227 kph||133 mph / 214 kph||– 8 mph / 13 kph|
|Fontana||180 mph / 290 kph||175 mph / 281 kph||– 5 mph / 9 kph|
|Martinsville||98 mph / 158 kph||96 mph / 154 kph||– 2 mph / 4 kph|
|Texas||189 mph / 304 kph||189 mph / 304 kph||0 mph / 0 kph|
|Bristol||132 mph / 212 kph||128 mph / 206 kph||– 4 mph / 6 kph|
|Richmond||124 mph / 200 kph||120 mph / 193 kph||– 4 mph / 7 kph|
|Talladega||192 mph / 309 kph||181 mph / 291 kph||– 11 mph / 18 kph|
NOTE: The differences in kph at Bristol and Richmond are due to how we’ve rounded things.
As the table above shows, the Next Gen car is only significantly slower in qualifying times at Daytona and Talladega. At intermediate tracks, they were generally the same, and in the case of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Next Gen car was actually faster. The average difference in pole speed across these 9 events was a decrease of just under 5 mph / 8 kph.
It should be noted that pole speeds are just one measurement we can use to determine the speeds of NASCAR cars. The average race speeds also fluctuate, and top speeds reached during the race are often unclear without analyzing lots of onboard footage. So, pole speeds are the easiest metrics to look at to get an idea of the trends over the years.
Slower Next Gen Cars Brought Higher Ratings
We can label the Next Gen cars as generally slower than the Generation 6 cars, but only to a certain degree since they are actually just as fast or even faster at some venues. Despite this, starting in 2021 and continuing throughout 2022, NASCAR saw an uptick in attendance, with individual tracks like Pocono reporting their highest turnout in years.
TV ratings were also up slightly in 2022 over 2021, with Fox, NBC, FS1, and USA reporting an average of 3.03 million viewers. The average in 2021 sat at 3.00 million. This indicates that fans have not seen the generally slower speeds as a hindrance to the sport (yet anyway). If the racing product on the track is exciting, then fans will tune in regardless of how fast or slow the cars get.
NASCAR Pole Speeds Over The Years
|Daytona||194 mph / 312 kph||196 mph / 315 kph||191 mph / 307 kph||191 mph / 307 kph||194 mph / 313 kph||181 mph / 291 kph|
|Talladega||198 mph / 319 mph||199 mph / 320 kph||187 mph / 301 kph||185 mph / 298 kph||193 mph / 310 kph||181 mph / 291 kph|
|Charlotte||165 mph / 266 kph||174 mph / 280 kph||186 mph / 299 kph||186 mph / 299 kph||183 mph / 295 kph||184 mph / 296 kph|
|Bristol||112 mph / 180 kph||116 mph / 187 kph||126 mph / 203 kph||125 mph / 201 kph||132 mph / 212 kph||128 mph / 206 kph|
|Darlington||174 mph / 280 kph||163 mph / 262 kph||173 mph / 279 kph||180 mph / 290 kph||172 mph / 278 kph||178 mph / 286 kph|
Note we have used 2019 as the most recent pre-Next Gen entry as some races in the 2020 and 2021 seasons used random draws or competition-based formulas to determine pole position. This was a result of the COVID-19 pandemic limiting which races could hold qualifying sessions.
Key points from this table are:
- The Daytona 500 has seen a double-digit drop in pole speed with the Next Gen car
- Talladega has also seen a meaningful drop
- Charlotte has actually gotten faster over the years, with pole speeds stabilizing around 185 mph
- Bristol is also a faster track than it used to be
- The Next Gen car was faster at Darlington than the Gen 6
Are Next Gen NASCAR Cars Slower On Road Courses?
Similar trends can be seen when we look at pole speeds at the road courses too. Chase Elliott’s pole speed at Watkins Glen in 2019 was 128 mph (205 kph), but when he got pole at the 2022 event he only managed a speed of 125 mph (201 kph). In 2019, Kyle Larson got pole at Sonoma with a speed of 95 mph (154 kph), but his pole speed at the 2022 race was just 92 mph (148 kph).
Daytona 500 Pole Speeds Over The Years
|1959||140 mph / 225 kph|
|1960||150 mph / 241 kph|
|1961||156 mph / 251 kph|
|1962||160 mph / 257 kph|
|1963||161 mph / 259 kph|
|1964||175 mph / 282 kph|
|1965||171 mph / 275 kph|
|1966||175 mph / 282 kph|
|1967||181 mph / 291 kph|
|1968||189 mph / 304 kph|
|1969||189 mph / 304 kph|
|1970||194 mph / 312 kph|
|1971||183 mph / 294 kph|
|1972||187 mph / 301 kph|
|1973||186 mph / 299 kph|
|1974||186 mph / 299 kph|
|1975||186 mph / 299 kph|
|1976||183 mph / 294 kph|
|1977||188 mph / 303 kph|
|1978||188 mph / 303 kph|
|1979||196 mph / 315 kph|
|1980||194 mph / 312 kph|
|1981||195 mph / 314 kph|
|1982||196 mph / 315 kph|
|1983||199 mph / 320 kph|
|1984||202 mph / 325 kph|
|1985||205 mph / 330 kph|
|1986||205 mph / 330 kph|
|1987||210 mph / 338 kph|
|1988||194 mph / 312 kph|
|1989||197 mph / 317 kph|
|1990||197 mph / 317 kph|
|1991||196 mph / 315 kph|
|1992||192 mph / 309 kph|
|1993||189 mph / 304 kph|
|1994||190 mph / 306 kph|
|1995||194 mph / 312 kph|
|1996||190 mph / 306 kph|
|1997||190 mph / 306 kph|
|1998||192 mph / 309 kph|
|1999||195 mph / 314 kph|
|2000||191 mph / 307 kph|
|2001||184 mph / 296 kph|
|2002||186 mph / 299 kph|
|2003||187 mph / 301 kph|
|2004||188 mph / 303 kph|
|2005||188 mph / 303 kph|
|2006||189 mph / 304 kph|
|2007||186 mph / 299 kph|
|2008||187 mph / 301 kph|
|2009||188 mph / 303 kph|
|2010||191 mph / 307 kph|
|2011||186 mph / 299 kph|
|2012||195 mph / 314 kph|
|2013||196 mph / 315 kph|
|2014||196 mph / 315 kph|
|2015||201 mph / 323 kph|
|2016||196 mph / 315 kph|
|2017||193 mph / 311 kph|
|2018||196 mph / 315 kph|
|2019||194 mph / 312 kph|
|2020||195 mph / 314 kph|
|2021||191 mph / 307 kph|
|2022||181 mph / 291 kph|
Graph Of Daytona 500 Pole Speeds
Daytona Pole Speeds Explained
The Daytona 500 has seen pole speeds fluctuate over the years, from a low of 140 mph at the first race back in 1959 to a high of 210 mph in 1987. The 200 mph barrier was broken again in 2015, but between those two highs it also dropped as low as 184 mph, only 3 mph faster than the Next Gen car’s first appearance at the 2022 Daytona race.
The speeds at Daytona have varied over the years with the introduction of restrictor plates and tapered spacers. The restrictor plate was first used in 1988, which explains the 16 mph drop in pole speed compared with 1987’s peak. We’ll likely see pole speeds at the Great American Race fluctuate as the Next Gen car evolves over time and drivers get even better with it.
Why Have Speeds Decreased In NASCAR?
NASCAR saw steady increases in speeds until the 1980s, when the cars were going so fast that they were breaking records. However, we also saw a large number of severe crashes during this time, and it prompted NASCAR to curtail the speeds, leading to the introduction of the restrictor plate in 1988. These restricted the airflow into the engine, slowing the cars down at Daytona and Talladega.
This occurred following Bobby Allison’s crash at Talladega in 1987 when his car went airborne and ripped out a portion of the catch fence near the start-finish line. While Allison walked away unharmed, the crash injured multiple spectators, which also factored into NASCAR’s decision to slow the cars down. Pole speeds from the Daytona 500 show this, as the speed reached 210 mph (338 kph) in 1987.
Come 1988, the pole speed at Daytona was just 194 mph (312 kph). During the restrictor plate era, the fastest pole speed at the Daytona 500 was 201 mph (323 kph), which occurred in 2015.
Revamped Aerodynamics/Downforce Package Reduced Speeds
One of NASCAR’s goals with the Next Gen cars was to find ways to keep the cars planted on the track surface, and this resulted in slower cars, despite the higher 670 horsepower package at road courses, intermediate tracks, and short tracks. The Next Gen cars have a full-length underwing, and these have helped add downforce to the car.
This underwing creates a vacuum-like effect under the car, adding downforce. It is also a safety feature that keeps the cars from going airborne if they were to spin and drift backward. There is also a diffuser attached to the underwing, which keeps turbulence to a minimum, and therefore allowing for smoother passing and competitive side-by-side racing.
There are various other features on the Next Gen car aimed at increasing downforce levels, with some reporting an increase of close to 1,000 lbs (almost a third of the car’s weight). Because of the increased downforce, it takes more power to catapult the car forward, and the Gen 6’s 410 horsepower package at superspeedways and the 550 package at intermediate tracks wouldn’t cut it.
New Horsepower Package & Components
For the cars to get remotely close to the speeds of their Generation 6 predecessors, NASCAR had to come up with a new horsepower package. After several tests, they settled on 510 for Daytona, Atlanta, and Talladega, which are three of the fastest tracks, and 670 horsepower for all the other tracks.
With the new horsepower and aerodynamics package, speeds at many tracks have decreased, but NASCAR accomplished their goal in creating tighter side-by-side racing. They also made the cars more alike by outsourcing many components to single vendors, which, in theory, should give smaller teams a better chance of being competitive on a NASCAR weekend.
Before the Next Gen’s arrival, NASCAR teams generally bought their own equipment. And richer teams that could afford better and more expensive equipment almost universally won races. Smaller teams and lesser known drivers stood next to no chance of winning. However, we saw a massive shift from that narrative in 2022.
2022 saw 19 different winners, the first time such a feat had occurred since 2001. Of those 19 winners, five of them secured their first career wins. Those drivers were Austin Cindric, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, Daniel Suarez, and Ross Chastain. Chastain would also go on to finish second in points behind eventual champion Joey Logano.
Two drivers, Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher, won their first full-length races, as their first career wins in previous seasons occurred in rain-shortened events. Three more drivers, Christopher Bell, William Byron, and Erik Jones won their third races, with Bell and Byron winning a fourth race, respectively, later that season.
Paired with slightly higher ratings and higher fan attendance, plus the fact that 2022 was one of the most competitive seasons in NASCAR history, early returns showed the slower cars created more entertaining racing. If this type of competitiveness continues during the Next Gen era, expect the speeds of the cars to be less of a concern for many fans.
KEY POINTS• The NASCAR Next Gen car is slower than the Gen 6 at some tracks, but it’s actually faster at some venues
• Pole speeds are just one measurement that illustrates these speed differences
• Top speeds aren’t all that matters in NASCAR, as it’s also got to be entertaining for fans
NASCAR is getting slower because of increased downforce levels and revamped aerodynamics packages on the Next Gen cars. While the horsepower has increased (from 410/550 to 510/670), the cars are still slower than the previous Generation 6 cars at many tracks on the schedule.
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