Predicting the Future of NASCAR: Likely Changes

The automobile industry is evolving and so is NASCAR. Since the racing organization's inception in 1948, every vehicle advancement has changed the brand and structure for the better. Races are as safe as they've ever been, but they aren't as entertaining as they used to be. Here are three changes we should expect from NASCAR that could take the sport to new heights.

Expansion to Hybrid Vehicles

NASCAR plans to release its Next Gen vehicles at the beginning of the 2022 Sprint Cup Series in early April, which could mark the start of a revolution in the sport. The cars feature independent rear suspension, 18-inch wheels with better tires, and split exhaust. They also have an upgraded six-speed sequential shifter and a fully symmetrical body, which will change the driving and viewing experience.

The new vehicle is just the first step in a transition toward hybrid, battery-assisted engines in the coming years. This change will help NASCAR consolidate its single-part suppliers and attract more original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), which the organization sorely needs. Right now, only Toyota, Ford, and Chevy produce vehicles for NASCAR, and that number has to increase if the sport wants to expand.

NASCAR has emphasized that hybrid vehicles will not make the product unrecognizable. We will still hear the deep vibrations and loud-revving of traditional engines. Hybrids serve two purposes: lower costs from single-part suppliers and more OEMs. NASCAR wants to re-organize the cars without disrupting the driving and viewing experience.

Greater Focus on Inclusive Events

COVID-19 hit every sports league hard, including NASCAR. Fans sought alternative sources of entertainment when the organization had to cancel all in-person events. One of these was the slot car race — a miniature-scaled race where participants drive electric-powered vehicles with handheld controls.

Slot car racing was popular in the 1960s and slowly went out of style in the following decades. However, with many older drivers now unable to get behind the wheel, it began a comeback in the mid-2010s. COVID-19 made other demographics gravitate toward slot racing. It could reemerge as a popular side attraction in racing culture and gain influence in NASCAR again.

Such events allow old folks, kids, and other groups who can't drive to participate in a sport that's been largely reserved for non-disabled men. Inclusivity has been a widespread topic of discussion in the sports industry, so why can't NASCAR join in with well-established activities like slot racing?

More Polarizing Figures

Another way NASCAR has become more inclusive is by opening its ranks to a wider range of characters. Racing has been a family-dominated arena since the beginning. The Earnhardts, Elliotts, Buschs, and many other families have been stars of the sport for three or four generations. Continuity helps NASCAR maintain a following, but it doesn't help the sport grow.

NASCAR has expanded its athlete pool to include people from all walks of life. Most of NASCAR's lineup in 2022 consists of regular people who loved racing and developed their craft from scratch. They didn't have family ties or internal connections to the industry, but they followed their passion and ended up on racing's biggest stage. Danica Patrick and Bubba Wallace are the two most well-known examples of non-traditional racers grabbing the spotlight.

Having a more diverse lineup is a good step, but NASCAR needs to take it a step further. The success of a sports league depends on its greatest commodities. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were stars, but they weren't pop culture figures. For all the good they did, the average fan couldn't latch onto them. A NASCAR driver hasn't captured the hearts of fans across all sports since Dale Earnhardt, Sr. over 20 years ago.

Several superstars need to emerge soon for NASCAR to grow in popularity. Conveniently, many worthy candidates are waiting to fill that role. Austin Cindric, Hailie Deegan, Ty Gibbs, and other young drivers could take up the mantle as the "next big thing." They have the youth, talent, and personality — they just need to insert themselves into pop culture and establish a brand.

A New Era For NASCAR

The introduction of the Next-Gen vehicle marks the start of a new era for NASCAR. It knows it must move in a modernized direction to remain relevant. Hybrid cars, inclusive events, and more polarizing racers will drive this sport to new heights. It has to ditch the traditional vehicles and nepotistic culture for a more relatable product. Keep your eye out for these changes in NASCAR's near future.

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