Not Bad for a Hack and Other Things We Learned at Las Vegas

The Next Gen continues to generate storylines and excitement.

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7 wins in three-plus seasons.
5 wins over the past 12 months -- second only to Kyle Larson.
Defeating Larson head-to-head at Las Vegas.

Not bad for a hack, or the same bleeping guy who backs into every bleeping win he ever bleeping gets and backed into another bleeping win.

Seriously, not bad at all.

Listen, not every win is created equal but Alex Bowman, Greg Ives and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team certainly capitalize like few others in the industry and isn’t that a testament to something? Sure, Bowman hasn’t strung together wins, or results, especially during the playoffs in the way needed to seriously contend for a championship but that is really the only missing stage of his development.

It’s not like Bowman was an also-ran throughout the day as the No. 48 won the opening stage and raced around the top-five throughout the entire Pennzoil 400. If the race had stayed green, Bowman was going to finish fourth.

When given the chance to do his part, Greg Ives made the right calls and their over-the-wall pit crew executed in a way to deliver Bowman a front row restart.

In this new frontier with the Next Gen car, its impossible to read too much into a single victory, especially under the circumstances. However, with that said, the penchant for capitalizing on such opportunities is what wins championships once a team gets to the Championship 4 in November. Now it’s just a matter of Bowman and Ives reaching the season finale.

What we learned from Vegas can be found below.

WHY KYLE WAS ROWDY

The bleeping quote above, if you haven’t gathered yet, can be attributed to Kyle Busch, who had several reasons to be miffed after 400 miles on Sunday.

Be it the driver or team, Busch has struggled to keep his No. 18 pointed straight the past two weeks at Fontana and Vegas. A crash in Saturday practice this weekend necessitated an overnight construction of a backup best described as a parts car.

As a result of the crash, Busch started at the rear of the race, where he began a steady march through the field when he was involved in this crash that again sent him to the rear.

Then he was involved in an altercation with Chase Briscoe.

And through it all, Busch was still two laps away from winning the race, successfully holding off teammate Martin Truex Jr. when the caution came out for a crash involving Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace. The ensuing decision to take four tires over two was the statistically sound one but it just didn’t work out due to a figurative roll of the dice in Sin City.

It’s been a frustrating stretch for Busch, as the final years of the Gen-6 era didn’t match the early years under that platform and winning on Sunday after all the adversity would have been a statement that Rowdy was back.

Instead, it was just more adversity, which resulted in jabs towards both Bowman and the spec car nature of the Next Gen.

Busch finished fourth despite all of that, which speaks volumes for where their early Next Gen program appears to be, even if the driver is still working to get the feel of it.

BEST SEASON EVER

Maybe 2022 was supposed to be the Best Season Ever.

FOX Sports hammered the hyperbolic slogan for its half of the 2021 season, but 2022 has been a home run for the industry using every conceivable metric.

Literally every race, across four different track types when you include the non-points Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum, have produced everything you likely have wanted from the sport over the years – different winners, surprise contenders and on-track action.

After three years of the 550 package experiment, Cup cars are once again on edge thanks to the mid-winter decision to increase power and lower downforce on the intermediate length tracks -- combined with the lack of sideforce and increased slip angle on the Next Gen cars.

Drivers seem to largely be having fun again, and when the most visible ambassadors for the sport are having fun, fans tend too as well.

It’s early in the car’s development cycle, but the parity from Auto Club Speedway continued in Las Vegas with Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick racing up front a week after Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez and Daniel Hemric also contended.

Chastain led 83 laps on Sunday after leading 73 combined laps throughout his career before the race.
Reddick has led 90 laps this season after leading 73 over the previous two seasons.

There will come a point this summer where two of the traditional powerhouses will emerge as championship favorites, but for now, this is NASCAR’s dream scenario with the amount of action and parity established in the early weeks.

Granted, the races have been kind of crashfests, and that’s added some length to the races, but that’s a far improvement from previous years where long green flag runs had fans begging for caution or green flag pit stops to shake up the running order.

Let’s not forget that stage breaks were first instituted as a result of races that increasingly featured no attrition and naturally occurring cautions. This is what we’ve all wanted to see from the NASCAR Cup Series for well over a decade.

From that standpoint, the new car continues to deliver.

ALMOST DÉJÀ VU

Admit it.

There was a point with Bowman and Larson side-by-side during overtime where you thought, here we go again, and that Rick Hendrick was going to have to call another meeting.

It was certainly in the back of Jeff Gordon’s mind.

Nevertheless, the 48 and the 5 raced hard, close and clean. This is the kind of problem every organization wants to have -- their cars racing each other for the win every week. There’s just one rule:

"I mean, when I came to Hendrick Motorsports it was: Race hard but don’t wreck your teammates," Gordon said.

Only those at Hendrick Motorsports know how Elliott and Larson really feel about each other a week removed from Auto Club, but the story has surely been overblown to a degree. There is a ton of respect between the previous two Cup champions, and they’ve raced dirt together over the past several months, and this isn’t the next great NASCAR blood feud.

It is, however, a reflection of NASCAR’s current quality of competition.

"I think we’ve seen great racing," Gordon said. "I think we’ve seen cars coming from the back to the front, front to the back. We’ve seen where they can race hard. But the cars are on the edge. The drivers are definitely having to show their talent and ability."

Drivers are going to be in conflict at various points this year, and with so many four-car powerhouses, sometimes those conflicts are going to be intra-organizational.

"I’m proud of NASCAR going with the lower downforce, higher horsepower for these types of tracks because it does put it more in the drivers’ hands, Gordon said. "When you see guys spinning out by themselves, we haven’t seen that in years. You see guys catching it, but yet you can tell they’re still pushing and driving hard."

And that sometimes causes drivers to drive hard into each other.