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Granted, Gordon – who now serves as vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports – should be happy with the results as HMS drivers have won two of the Cup Series season’s first three races.
Reigning series champion Kyle Larson won Feb. 27 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and teammate Alex Bowman edged Larson in overtime last Sunday to win at Las Vegas.
Regardless of the trophies, Gordon said he can see a visibly improved racing product on the track with the introduction of the Next Gen – the most revolutionary iteration of stock car since NASCAR’s inception.
“I think we’ve seen great racing. I think we’ve seen cars coming from the back to the front, front to the back,” he said. “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.
“I think that was the intent – to have a car that was on a more level playing field. 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.
“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.”
With 12 caution flags in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas, there have been 31 cautions through the first three races of the 2022 season. That is tied for the most (2011) through the first three races of any season in NASCAR’s premier series.
Also, while the first three winners have come from two of NASCAR’s biggest and most successful organizations – Team Penske and Hendrick – there have been numerous other contenders in the mix for each of the three race wins.
Different names at the front
After three races the five drivers who have led the most laps thus far are Tyler Reddick (90), Ross Chastain (83), Kyle Busch (77), Brad Keselowski (70) and Larson (56). Of the group, only Larson has a victory so far.
“I’m incredibly impressed and optimistic about what this car has to bring throughout the season as these guys continue to work on it,” Gordon said. “It’s also great to see fresh faces and names up front.
“We saw it with Tyler Reddick last week (and) Erik Jones. This week Ross Chastain was incredibly impressive. I hope we see more of that.
“I think that’s what the sport needs to continue to grow.”
Greg Ives, Bowman’s crew chief on the No. 48 Chevrolet, said he believes by leveling the playing field with the car, individual driver talent has a better chance of shining through in race day performance.
“It’s not surprising that some of these drivers are up front because of the talent they have to make it to the Cup Series. I think leveling the playing field, like Jeff said, with the car allows for those guys to maybe wheel it a little bit more,” Ives said.
“Guys who like it on the edge, can balance that really well.”