Dr. Diandra: Next Gen success depended on experience: More wasn’t better


The Next Gen car’s introduction in 2022 challenged everyone. But more experience wasn’t better when it came to the final season ranking, the number of top-10 finishes or the average finish position.

Ranking 2022

I compared drivers’ 2022 season-ending rank to their 2021 numbers, including only drivers who ran all 36 races in both seasons.

In the graph below, drivers with the largest drop in rank are toward the left in red. Drivers with the largest improvements are toward the right in blue.

A bar chart showing changes in drivers' season rank for 2022 compared with 2021

Brad Keselowski suffered the largest drop, down 18 positions. But Keselowski also changed teams from Penske — home of this year’s champion — to RFK, which won its first race since 2017 this year.

Martin Truex Jr. fell 15 positions. Toyota got off to a slow start, in part due to fielding fewer cars than the other manufacturers. Truex got the worst of it, following up last year’s second-place finish with a 17th-place season — and no wins.

Kevin Harvick broke a 65-race winless streak but finished 15th, 10 positions down from last year’s fifth-place finish.

While Michael McDowell had a career-best year, not making the playoffs automatically lowered his ranking relative to 2021. Defending champion Kyle Larson finished sixth this year after what he called an “up-and-down” season.

If some drivers fall in the standings, others must rise.

Trackhouse Racing led the way in improvements. Ross Chastain earned his first two career wins on the way to making the largest gain in positions at 18.  Teammate Daniel Suárez, had the second-best improvement with a jump of 15 positions.

Chase Briscoe, in his second year at Stewart Haas Racing, went from 23rd to ninth, an improvement of 14 positions. Christopher Bell rose nine positions relative to 2021, and Joey Logano improved by seven positions.

Experience proves a negative

The most-improved drivers at Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing were their most-junior drivers. At Team Penske, the oldest driver not only improved the most but won the championship.

Then again, Penske’s oldest driver is only 32.

Much has been made of NASCAR’s “youth movement,” but age doesn’t measure experience. Logano and Austin Dillon were born one month apart, but Logano has run 507 Cup Series races, while Dillon has run 336.

So instead of plotting changes in rank as a function of age, I plot them as a function of how many Cup Series races each driver totaled as of the end of this season. I again put gains in blue and losses in red.

A scatter graph showing changes in rank as a function of number of races run as of the end of 2022

Only 19 drivers qualified for inclusion, but I argue that there’s a clear trend from the lower right to the upper left of the graph. The drivers with the most Cup Series experience had the largest decreases in rank.

  • With the exception of Logano, no driver with more than 365 races under his belt improved his ranking relative to last year.
  • No driver who has run fewer than 275 races lost more than one position in his season rankings. Of the two drivers in this group who each lost a single position:
    • Tyler Reddick had eight DNFs in 2022 compared with two in 2021.
    • Ryan Blaney went winless, which made matching his three-win 2021 record a challenge.
  • The top four gainers in rank have a total of 548 races between them. Suárez is the most experienced of these four drivers with 216 races run.
  • The top four losers in rank have run a combined 2,357 races. Harvick alone has run more races than all four top gainers combined.

Top-10 and average finishes support the trend

The playoff’s elimination format skews the final season rankings. So I examined top-10 finishes — and found the same results.

A scatter graph showing changes in number of top 10 finishes from 2021 to 2022 as a function of number of races run as of the end of 2022. The results show that more experience isn't always better.

More-experienced drivers had fewer top-10 finishes this year than last. Even Logano had two fewer top-10 finishes this year than last year.

  • No driver with more than 470 races earned more top-10 finishes this year than last year.
  • Trackhouse Racing again led the way.
    • Chastain went from eight top-10 finishes in 2021 to 21 in 2022, notching the biggest improvement with 13.
    • Suárez had nine more top 10s, increasing from four to 13.
  • Briscoe, McDowell and Erik Jones each earned seven more top 10s this year than last year.

Bubba Wallace isn’t on the graph because he missed one race in 2022. Nevertheless, he also earned seven more top 10s this year — while running one fewer race.

The data for changes in average finish reinforce the trend: More experience wasn’t better when it came to the Next Gen car.

But the converse isn’t true. Some less-experienced drivers improved while others didn’t.

Will the trend continue in 2023?

Veterans — Denny Hamlin in particular — improved as the season went on. This trend may just be a question of drivers needing to break old habits that don’t work in the new car.

I’ll be watching 2023 to see if the old guard springs back or if some of these drivers decide its time to hang up their firesuits.


NASCAR displays counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe car


NASCAR displayed the counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe‘s car on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, showing how the part did not correspond to what should have been in the car.

NASCAR found the issue at its R&D Center after last month’s Coca-Cola 600. The sanctioning body fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him for six races. NASCAR also docked Briscoe and the team 120 points and 25 playoff points for the L3 infraction.

“We want to be transparent on the penalties,” said Brad Moran, managing director of the Cup Series as he displayed the counterfeit part to media.

Moran displayed a a portion of the engine panel from Briscoe’s car. He noted the engine duct was counterfeit. He said the proper pieces are 3D printed at the R&D Center and Fiberworks Composites sells them and installs them for teams. Moran said the duct is “in the bottom of the car under the engine panel. It’s to help cool the driver. It was added prior to the first race. During testing … we realized we wanted to get heat out of the engine compartment, and that’s what this piece does.”

Moran noted that with the counterfeit part, “we can clearly see the textures are different (from the proper part).”

He displayed what officials call a gauge that determines if the duct fits the proper parameters. He showed it fitting a proper duct and not properly fitting in the counterfeit part.

“It was a part that was made, and it was made for whatever reason,” Moran said. “It was, I guess, put on by error, but it was on the vehicle. It is a piece that should not have been made in the first place, and it was spotted at our teardown at the R&D Center.”

Moran said the issue was found in a visual inspection of the part. NASCAR inspected it further and Moran said “there are certain little characteristics that are in (a proper piece)” that officials did not see in the one on Briscoe’s car. “The more we examined it, the more we realized that’s not a part they bought.”

Moran noted that while the penalties were severe, they could have been worse based on the rulebook.

“It was the low end of the L3,” Moran said. “It’s a real big hit for any team. If it continues, and we feel we are not where we need to be, unfortunately, it’s going to ramp up. We’re not going to stop.

“The deal with this car is it needs to be run without modifying. It costs teams a lot of money in development. All the owners agreed. We all agreed where we need to be to make this a successful program, and we’re not going to give up.”



Sunday Cup race at Sonoma Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


The Cup Series heads to wine country to compete on the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. This race leads into the final off weekend of the season. After the break, the series races 20 consecutive weekends. NBC and USA will broadcast those races.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Adam Devine will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:50 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:45 p.m. … Driver intros are at 3 p.m. … Earl Smith, pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, will give the invocation at 3:30 p.m. … Tiffany Woys will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 110 laps (218.9 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 55.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and switches to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Daniel Suarez won his first career Cup race last year at Sonoma. Chris Buescher finished second. Michael McDowell placed third.


Friday 5: Kyle Busch, Randall Burnett forming potent combination

Rick Hendrick hopes rough driving settles down after Chase Elliott suspension

Concussion-like symptoms sideline Noah Gragson

NASCAR implements safety changes after Talladega crash

Dr. Diandra: Brad Keselowski driving RFK Racing revival 

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway 

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


Cup and Xfinity teams will be on track Saturday at Sonoma Raceway.

Cup teams will practice and qualify for Sunday’s race. Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday on the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California.

Sonoma Raceway


Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 75 degrees. Forecast is for mostly cloudy skies, a high of 71 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Saturday, June 10

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 3 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Cup practice  (FS2)
  • 6 – 7 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS2)
  • 8 p.m. — Xfinity race (79 laps, 156.95 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing


SONOMA, Calif. — Alpha Prime Racing owner Tommy Joe Martins laughs. He can. His Xfinity Series cars all are here at Sonoma Raceway.

At one point last week, it was not certain if his team’s cars would make it to Portland International Raceway.

“It was probably the toughest professional week I’ve had of my NASCAR career,” Martins told NBC Sports on Friday at Sonoma.

MORE: Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma

The Alpha Prime Racing team had both its trucks break down and one of its haulers have mechanical issues last week on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

“We basically sent four pieces of equipment on the road and three of them broke,” Martins said.

For a time, the car Sage Karam is driving this weekend at Sonoma was left in a hauler in Kansas City because there wasn’t room in the dually Martins sent. It had room only for the car that was needed at Portland and other equipment. Karam’s car, which was to be a backup at Portland, was left behind.

“It’s a very helpless feeling when you feel like your stuff is stuck on the side of the road,” Martins said.

He still has one truck still in St. Louis and another in Oregon. Martins estimates the mechanical issues will cost his team about $50,000 when everything is totaled.

Trouble started well before the team left its Mooresville, North Carolina, race shop for Portland.

The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte was scheduled to run May 27. Rain forced that event to be rescheduled to May 29. Martins said the team had planned to send its trucks to Portland on May 28. With the race pushed back to the 29th, the travel schedule tightened.

It got worse.

After the Xfinity race started, rain came. With the Coca-Cola 600 scheduled for 3 p.m. ET that day – after being delayed by rain from Sunday – the rest of the Xfinity race was pushed back until after the 600. That further tightened the window on Xfinity teams to make it to Portland.

The Xfinity race ended around 11:30 p.m. ET on May 29. Alpha Prime Racing’s haulers left the shop around 6 a.m. ET on May 30.

The two trucks traveled together until issues in St. Louis.

The truck hauling the Nos. 44 and 45 cars had engine issues in St. Louis. The other truck kept going until it had mechanical issues with its hauler in Kansas City. The air bags on the hauler failed.

So, Alpha Prime Racing had a truck that worked in Kansas City with a hauler that didn’t and a truck that didn’t work in St. Louis with a hauler that did.

The truck in Kansas City went back to St. Louis to attach to the hauler and take those cars and equipment to Portland. Martins then had to find something to haul the stranded equipment in Kansas City and a driver. He eventually did. A dually left North Carolina for Kansas City. Once there, what fit in the dually was taken to Portland and what didn’t, including Karam’s Sonoma car stayed behind.

Yet, more trouble was headed for Martins and his team.

The truck that had gone back from Kansas City to St. Louis to take hauler that worked then broke down about 200 miles from Portland.

“I laugh knowing that we’re on the other side of it,” Martins said Friday of all the issues his team had transporting cars and equipment across the country.

“We’ve started to make plans and corrections for it not happening again,” he said.

That hauler that was left in Kansas City? It was repaired and transported to Sonoma, arriving earlier this week.

“Our guys are troopers,” Martins said. “Both of our (truck) drivers were just awesome about the whole thing. … They went through hell week as far as driving somewhere, fly back and pick something up, drive again and now are going to have to do the same thing getting back.”

When the garage opened Friday at Sonoma, Alpha Prime Racing had all its cars.

“I don’t think we had any major issues here, so that was good,” Martins said.

The focus is back on the track. Karam was 24th on the speed chart in Friday’s practice, leading Alpha Prime Racing’s effort. Dylan Lupton was 32nd. Jeffrey Earnhardt was last among 41 cars.

After Saturday night’s race, the team heads back to North Carolina for a well-earned weekend off.