Best of Gen 6: Celebrating the era’s most efficient passers


From the start of the 2013 season to the close of last month’s finale in Phoenix, the NASCAR Cup Series experienced the era of the Gen 6 car. With this chapter of stock car racing at its bittersweet end — and a new one beginning with the introduction of the Next Gen car in 2022 — NBC Sports is spending this month looking back on the best individual performances across the last nine years.

Who were the most efficient passers of the Gen 6 era?

Forget the total of cars passed — that’s not what we’re after and it’s a stat typically catering to those running frequently in the middle of fields, with many cars to pass, who are too often caught in inefficient side-by-side battles.

We’re seeking out efficiency, and in doing so, utilizing the surplus passing value (SPV) metric from Motorsports Analytics, which measures the difference in a driver’s adjusted pass efficiency or differential — with pit cycles and other aberrations removed — and the expected respective marks, based on average running position across a field-wide slope.

From here, we’re able to identify the drivers who most reliably earned spots within their running whereabouts during the Gen 6 era. The rankings within each capsule refer to a driver’s year-end ranking in SPV among series regulars:

Kyle Larson

Rankings: 1st (2018), 2nd (2021), 3rd (2014, 2017), 4th (2016, 2019)

Since the Californian first stepped foot into the Cup Series at age 21, passing, both in totality and efficiency, was the marquee weapon in his arsenal. His knack for high surplus values crossed different rules packages within the Gen 6 era and different teams. The latter — a shift from Chip Ganassi Racing to Hendrick Motorsports — strapped Larson into the fastest vehicle of 2021 and with it, saw an evolution from the rim-riding cowboy theatrics of his early years to a more conservative, lay-no-waste approach to securing spots on the racetrack.

Larson can overtake an opponent in one corner while sideways or can methodically uproot someone from a track’s most advantageous line. Either way, he’s an efficient mover, one who regularly exceeds statistical expectation. From 2018-2021, his expected adjusted pass differential (or xAPD) was +410; his actual adjusted differential was +1006, symbolizing a surplus 596 positions earned during green-flag conditions.

Jimmie Johnson

Rankings: 1st (2017), 2nd (2016, 2020), 3rd (2015, 2018)

While the Gen 6 era wasn’t one that completely suited Johnson and coincided with the winter of his career, one of the all-time greats was still able to capitalize on his trademark passing ability, ranking outside the top three in SPV just once from 2015-2020.

In the last three years of his career, he amassed a surplus pass differential of +378 spots. During this stretch, Hendrick’s organizational speed dipped and Johnson’s own production ability waned, placing him lower in the running order on average compared to the norm of his halcyon days. Mired in the 13th-17th place range in 2020, he still flashed an ability to overtake within his running whereabouts seemingly at will. He ranked second in SPV in his final season, trailing only Christopher Bell.

And though he went winless in his “Ally era,” Johnson was still good for a highlight in traffic against some unsuspecting competition. The seven-time champ had no issue sling-shotting past Ryan Newman and Daniel Hemric across two of Indianapolis’ tight corners in 2019:

Kevin Harvick

Rankings: 1st (2016), 2nd (2015, 2018), 4th (2014), 5th (2017)

The 2019 season — simultaneously the birth of the split-horsepower rules packages and Harvick’s descent from the average driver’s statistical peak — saw the end of Harvick’s hyper-efficient passing across long runs. Crew chief Rodney Childers played a significant role in finding spots in what became a nine-win effort in 2020, taking a big chunk of the burden off his then 44-year-old driver.

But prior to 2019, Harvick had no qualms carrying his own weight. Metaphorically deadly in both clean air and traffic, he was a reliable procurer of track position, padding his tallies with high surplus values during a remarkable run from 2015-2018.

His banner year came in 2016, in which his +4.05% SPV — the second-best single-season value of any series regular in the Gen 6 era — brought Stewart-Haas Racing a pass differential 238 positions beyond his statistical expectation.

Chase Elliott

Rankings: 1st (2021), 2nd (2017), 5th (2020), 6th (2016), 9th (2018)

Similar to Larson, Elliott was an efficient long-run passer from Day 1 in the Cup Series. In 2016, at age 20, the Georgia native ranked sixth in SPV, securing a pass differential 117 positions better than his statistical expectation.

From there, his acumen grew. He ranked second the very next year, fifth in his title-winning 2020 season and first this season, an effort worthy of 274 surplus positions. He ranked first specifically on road courses in 2021, the track type on which both of his victories came. He also ranked first on 550-horsepower tracks.

Hailing from a super late model origin, Elliott is very much the prodding, methodical mover that heavy cars tend to produce. But he seldom wastes precious time on the racing surface. He’s so efficient that starting from the tail-end of fields — something he did six times in 2021 as a result of inspection penalties or unapproved adjustments — wasn’t much of a concern for crew chief Alan Gustafson and his Hendrick Motorsports team. Elliott scored at least one point during the first stages of all six races.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Rankings: 1st (2015), 3rd (2016), 5th (2014)

The statistical prime of Earnhardt’s driving career, which ranged from ages 38-42, provided just seven wins. But the majority of his good performance stemmed from elite passing marks during a three-year stretch in which he ranked first in surplus value at its apex.

That 2015 season — his age-40 effort — resulted in the second-best finishing average (11.3) of his 18-year career. It also saw Earnhardt record a +5.11% SPV, the best single-season effort of any driver during the Gen 6 era. That value allowed for an adjusted pass differential 401 positions beyond his statistical expectation, key in his finishing average (ranked sixth in the series) far exceeding the ranking of his average starting spot across 36 races (13.8, ranked 13th).

Kyle Busch

Rankings: 3rd (2019, 2021), 7th (2020)

Ironic, isn’t it? The driver most vocal about the rules package across the last three years of the Gen 6 era captured a championship during that span and ranked seventh or better in SPV in each season.

And while breaking out of side-by-side battles does seem a lot more difficult, Busch displayed a knack for such forward movement in traffic that few of his peers could duplicate. The last three years have seen the best of Busch’s passing ability, which wasn’t always present. In total, he earned Joe Gibbs Racing a pass differential +436 positions beyond expectation, including +183 in his 2019 title-winning campaign. That was also a year in which he led the series in SPV specifically when utilizing the 750-horsepower, low-downforce package that drew the majority of his ire.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Rankings: 3rd (2020), 4th (2021), 8th (2015)

Surprise! Say what you want about Stenhouse and his affinity for forcing passes; it not only works, but it’s also a highly efficient method of acquiring track position in the middle portions of the field. As a bonus, it’s entertaining to watch, as this pass on Harvick at Charlotte in 2020 demonstrates:

Since joining JTG Daugherty Racing two years ago, he secured a pair of top-five SPVs in the series and, this year, ranked in the 99th percentile for surplus passing among drivers averaging running positions 19th-29th. In total, he earned a surplus 315 positions from green-flag passing across the last two seasons.

It might not be conventional among NASCAR’s old guard and has the tendency to rub other competitors the wrong way, but Stenhouse’s recent output places him among the most reliable passers in advance of the Next Gen era.

What drivers said at WWT Raceway


Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

Kyle Busch — Winner: “That was pretty awesome. Man, to sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps and have my guys do such a great job today was pretty phenomenal for us. Great for RCR. Just win, baby! … We’re going to have a great time with this one. This one is pretty cool.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I thought we were super dialed if it was 95 degrees like it was supposed to be with those delays – it kind of took away from the advantage I thought that we had. I’m proud of this whole Sport Clips Toyota team – pit crew did a phenomenal job keeping us in it and doing really good on the money stop with about 60 to go. We are going to have to wait another to get that 50th (win).”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “I’m proud of the fight. We were mediocre – just outside the top five all day long. There was a group of cars that were a tick better than us. Then we executed at the end and beat a few of them. We tried some new things from last year, and we learned some lessons. But overall: Good. We needed a solid run. We’ve been going through hell here lately. So, it’s nice to get a top five, third place, and some points there in each stage. Good day.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 4th: “Proud of the effort today. It’s been a couple tough races. We’ve been so good all year long and the last few have been pretty bad and we’ve had to work on it quite a bit. The team got us in a place where we could contend for the win, so you can’t ask for much more than that. …  I wish I would have done a better job. When I was the leader, I hadn’t been at the front all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where people were running on restarts, and I didn’t know how hard they could go. I just got kind of caught off guard and lost the control.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “Started off the race near the front and stayed there through Stage 1 and thought we could get a little bit better and maybe have a shot at the couple, three in front of us. We had a pit road penalty and had to go to the back, and it was just an uphill climb from there. Just really tough to get through the field. We got some damage from when someone’s brake rotor exploded, that slowed us down even more. Really with all we went through today, a top-five is a really good day for us. I’m proud of the effort.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 6th: “We ran pretty good today. Won the second stage which was good, second in the first stage. Just kind of lost track position, lost the lead. Through a couple stops and restarts, we could just never really get it back. I thought that (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin) and I were similar. It was just a matter of who was out front. I just got a bad restart at the end and fell to sixth. But overall, it wasn’t a bad day. It was a good points day too, and we’ll keep going.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 7th: “The entire weekend was very solid for us. We barely missed the second run in qualifying and really, we missed it because of me and not because of the car. The car was capable of advancing. In the race, the car was strong right away. It was fun today and we really needed this as a team. We needed a result that we deserved, and I felt like lately it’s been a little difficult on us when it comes to that. Today, I felt like we deserved a top-10 or top-five and we came home seventh, so we will take it.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 9th: “We kind of learned last year that track position is super important. Taking two tires was an option last year, so we knew it’d be one this year. We did it early on and got track position, but we got spun out. So, went all the way to the back and then we put four on, and then you’re just buried back there. So, we had to go for it again, put two on and just left two on. We never took four again. There were a lot of laps on the left-side tires, but track position was super important. We had a great FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang, so I knew we could kind of hold our ground. Those last few cautions kind of hurt us a bit, but still came away with a Top-10. So, it was a good day.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 12th: “That was a long day – long race. There were a lot of cautions and red flags. It really started yesterday. I was in a little bit of a hole after qualifying, and I just didn’t do a good job. I had to dig out of that today. We had pretty good speed in our Fastenal Ford Mustang. I was pretty happy with it, and at times, had to move around the track quite a bit. I figured out Gateway really quickly. Not being able to run here last year, I felt a little behind getting going. Definitely found something there at the end. Honestly wish it was a 600-mile race because I felt like we could have kept getting better.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 13th: “Definitely frustrating having a speeding penalty … I’m a little frustrated with myself with that. You think something at the end of Stage 1 isn’t going to affect your race, but it just put us behind. We tried a bunch of strategy calls to get our Freightliner Ford Mustang up there. Had some good restarts at the end and made the most of it, I feel like. Those restarts got really scrappy. Proud of the team effort, proud of the recovery. Definitely a lot to clean up on my end to maximize what I thought was a Top-10 race car.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 17th: “That was a really long day. I fought a tight race car all day long and every time we came down pit road, my guys made really strong adjustments. It just wasn’t enough to get us to the front and stay there. There were so many cautions there at the end, I was just trying to save the car. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible day for us after qualifying 29th. The fans were out in full force today, too, that was awesome to see. We’ve just got to keep grinding for better finishes.”

Erik Jones — Finished 18th: “Just an up-and-down day for the No. 43 Chevy team. Didn’t end up how we wanted it to go, but we’ll go to work and get the car a bit better. I thought we had good speed, just didn’t have things go our way. We’ll work on it and hopefully go to Sonoma (Raceway) and have a solid day.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 32nd: “We kept our track position just like we wanted to. We got stage points, and I felt like we had a top-eight or so car, which was a big difference from last year. Obviously we’re striving to be better everywhere. We had a really good streak going of really good runs. It looked like the No. 2 (Austin Cindric) just, for some reason, right-reared the No. 3 (Austin Dillon) and took both of us Chevy guys out, so that’s a bummer. We definitely had a top-10 car today.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 34th: “Our day kind of went bad early on, but our McDonald’s Camry was able to get through traffic pretty well, but as the track stated to cool off, it just started going away from us. It was starting to get frustrating out there for sure, to have a car that good, and it felt like it was just going away. I had a bad feeling that was coming soon. I was just getting ready to have to back off with how soft the brakes got, but I obviously should have been thinking about that a lap or two sooner.”

Carson Hocevar — Finished 36th: “I thought it was great. I had a blast. Just so thankful for the opportunity. I don’t have a job for next year. I know Al Niece and Cody Efaw wants me to run for them and I will forever run a race or however many. But man, I’m just so thankful that they gave me the opportunity – the opportunity to drive a Xfinity car and now driving a Cup car. I was running 16th.. just so surreal for the first time ever. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot for Schluter Systems, Celsius, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sparks and the No. 7 Chevy team. Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”

Cup results at WWT Raceway, driver points


Kyle Busch scored his third Cup victory of the season, winning Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime.

Busch is tied with William Byron for most victories this season. Busch and Byron have combined to win three of the last six Cup points races (two by Busch and one by Byron).

MORE: WWT Raceway Cup results

MORE: Cup driver standings after WWT Raceway

Denny Hamlin finished second. Joey Logano placed third. Kyle Larson overcame struggles early in the race to finish fourth. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

Ryan Blaney placed sixth and took the points lead from Ross Chastain, who placed 22nd. Chastain fell to fifth in the standings.

Kyle Busch wins Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime


Kyle Busch scored his third victory of the season Sunday, holding off the field on five restarts in the final 45 laps at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Busch’s previous two wins this season were at Fontana and Talladega. Sunday’s win is the 63rd of his Cup career. He started on the pole and led 121 of 243 laps — including the last 60 — in a race extended three laps by overtime.

MORE: Race results, driver points 

MORE: What drivers had to say

“That was pretty awesome,” Busch said to FS1. “Man, to sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps and have my guys do such a great job today was pretty phenomenal for us.”

Denny Hamlin finished second and was followed by Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr.

Sunday’s race featured an event-record 11 cautions. Failures with brake rotors led to crashes by Carson Hocevar, Tyler Reddick, Noah Gragson and Bubba Wallace.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ryan Blaney

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Denny Hamlin’s runner-up finish is his fourth top-five result of the year. All have come in the last seven races. … Joey Logano’s third-place finish was his first top-five result since Martinsville in April. … Ryan Blaney finished sixth for his sixth top 10 in the last seven races and took the points lead from Ross Chastain. … Michael McDowell‘s ninth-place finish is his second top 10 of the year.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brad Keselowski, making his 500th career Cup start, had mechanical issues early that left his car underpowered for most of the event. He finished 28th. … Carson Hocevar, making his Cup debut, was running 16th when a brake rotor failed and he crashed, finishing last. … Tyler Reddick spun early in race. After getting back toward the front, a brake rotor failed and he crashed, finishing 35th.

NOTABLE: This is the 11th time in Kyle Busch’s Cup career that he has had at least three wins in a season.

NEXT: The series races June 11 at Sonoma Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox)

Corey LaJoie learning in his week with Chase Elliott’s team


Spending this week with Hendrick Motorsports has proved eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.

He will pilot Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin during last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to drive in the best equipment of his career.

MORE: Corey LaJoie not giving up on his dream 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race

Working with Elliott’s team also has given LaJoie an inside look as to what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who starts 30th after tagging the wall during his qualifying lap. “There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.

“But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief.

“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap) … if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19.

“There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.

“The inner-team competition is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have that … the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR at the track) … all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.”

It would be easy for LaJoie to be overwhelmed in this situation. His career has been marked with underfunded rides and trying to make the most of his equipment. He’s having his best season in Cup this year. LaJoie ranks 19th in points heading into today’s race.

LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he also can’t let it alter his focus.

“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental … (about) my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or the No. 9 is on it.

“I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there.”

When he returns to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.

“How I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change,” LaJoie said. “I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”