Fox Sports wrapped up its televised coverage of the first half of the 2022 NASCAR season at Sonoma, California, Raceway with plenty of momentum, including increased overall viewership at Cup Series races, led at least in part by the debut of the next-generation car .
The first half of the season saw new winners, new faces at the top, exceptional success from new teams (Trackhouse Racing and 23XI Racing) and, for the most part, convincing on-track racing.
NBC kicks off this weekend at Nashville, Tennessee Superspeedway with drivers fighting for their lives in the playoffs, followed by the playoffs and the championship race itself.
Given how the first half of the season has gone, the 2022 title hunt could well be one of the most compelling in years.
An intense battle for the remaining playoff spots
“There’s a heavyweight fight going on right now to make those playoffs. Every stage finish matters, every race matters – it’s all happening at a time when the sport is changing incredibly with this new car and the quality of racing through the roof,” said Jeff Burton, NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and NBC Analyst.
“The intensity and aggressiveness is through the roof. It just makes everything that happens all the more important for the future.”
Hall of Famer and two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. agreed.
“We’ve seen a pretty incredible season so far. The first half of the year saw some of the most compelling storylines and some positive momentum for the next-gen car. It was a lot for everyone to digest,” he said.
Chris Buescher, RFK Racing, Ford Mustang wrecks fifth third bank
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
Earnhardt got a head start on his NBC peers that year when he served as guest analyst for Fox’s Talladega Cup Series show in April.
“I feel like we understand very well what type of product Fox is handing us as we start our part of the season. I’m looking forward to getting back into the dressing room and talking about racing,” he said.
“There is a lot for everyone in the industry to understand about the next generation car and to be able to get into the dressing room and actually work on a race has been a really nice thing for me. So I really appreciated this opportunity. It got me even more excited for that part of the year.”
Most NBC analysts said the next-gen car’s performance exceeded any expectations they had at the start of the season.
They also believe there is potential for more drama as the intensity mounts for teams still trying to qualify for the playoffs.
“I think the car was a positive surprise for me with how some of the races looked. There were a few moments where there was concern or intrigue,” Earnhardt said. “We know that there is tire testing going on in Martinsville and they are working on that package and getting it right to make it the race we expected it to be. I think they put a lot of effort into making sure they can improve there.
“To be honest, man, it was a much more entertaining car than I expected at the mile and a half. There were just some really great moments in the way the riders can race around each other and it’s a lot better than I expected.
“I expected his new car with so many new variables and the way the underbody is and the way the rear is more centered, with a steep learning curve and a lot of collaboration between NASCAR and the teams comes with developing this car, but actually it was really good from the start.”
Burton Calls 2022 On-Track Product ‘Amazing’
Burton said it’s hard to imagine a season starting with as many unknowns as this one and yet yielding positive developments as a man so far.
“The quality of the races we’ve seen is amazing,” he said. “We see guys spinning on their own. We see that you are rewarded for really pushing the limits of this car.
“If you’re not ready to push the limits of this car, you probably can’t go fast enough. If you’re willing to push the car’s limit, chances are you’ll break a bit. We don’t want drivers to crash, but we do want drivers to get into a situation where it’s really difficult.
“There’s no way anyone is going to look at this car and say we’re not there.”