From clunky to hunky: the “NextGen” of NASCAR stock cars is here

By: Isaac Donsky, Staff Writer 

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

May 5, 2021 is circled on my calendar for one big reason. On that day, NASCAR will unveil the next generation of stock cars and the NextGen car, also known as the Gen 7, will make its official debut.

Now for a casual fan, that statement is confusing. Wait, NASCAR has generations, and we’re already on the seventh? Just as humans have baby boomers, millennials and Gen Z, NASCAR has its own car generations that help map out the history of the sport. Across over 70 years of existence, NASCAR has seen almost seven distinctive generations of cars, each with their own stories to tell.

So, to celebrate the next generation of stock car making it’s official debut, let’s take a look back at NASCAR’s previous generations.

Generation 1: 1948-1966

The original generation of NASCAR stock cars is the closest we’ve ever gotten to having pure stock cars on track. Gen. 1 cars were essentially street-legal cars with slightly souped-up engines that a bunch of moonshine runners ran in circles across the Southeast. They had limited safety features and were extremely heavy. Due to  limited factory support, most were bought by their drivers from the dealership and worked on in home garages. These cars embodied the grass-roots, pioneering spirit of early NASCAR, even if they are incredibly slow compared to later generations.

Generation 2: 1967-1980

If you appreciate classic cars, this is the generation for you. Gen. 2 saw the introduction of race-specific car designs that helped push NASCAR into its modern era. This generation featured beautifully crafted cars that focused on aerodynamics and engine power. The result was some of the most iconic cars in NASCAR history. The Plymouth Roadrunner, Dodge Daytona, Ford Torino and so many other recognizable cars made their debut during this era. Loud, aggressive and gorgeous to look at, this generation is the perfect place for car lovers of all ages.

Generation 3: 1981-1991

In 1981, NASCAR shortened the wheelbase of the cars to 110 inches to more resemble the cars on the showroom floor. Thus, out went the muscle cars and in came the boxy sedans. Thankfully, the ugly boxcars of the early 80s went away quickly as teams began experimenting with aerodynamics, leading to the Gen. 3 cars looking very different at the end of their existence than when they started. What makes Gen. 3 really stand out is the speed. These cars were the fastest cars ever to start a NASCAR race, regularly going over 200 miles per hour at nearly every track. Simply put, Gen. 3 was the fastest NASCAR ever was, and the fastest it will ever be.

Generation 4: 1992-2006

Ask any NASCAR fan and they’ll tell you that Gen. 4 was the peak of stock car racing. The Gen. 4 cars were the first purposely built racing vehicles designed exclusively for NASCAR, and they did not disappoint. Their sleek aerodynamics led to fantastic racing, which corresponded with NASCAR’s massive rise in popularity. These cars are the furthest NASCAR has ever been from stock, with heavily modified bodies skewed off to one side to gain an advantage, molded fiberglass body elements and flattened profiles. These cars were built to go fast, and their legacy lives on today as fans still look back on the Gen. 4 era with reverence.

Generation 5: 2007-2012

Introduced midway through the 2007 season, the Gen. 5 car was designed with one goal in mind: safety. It did just that, as the Gen. 5 car is arguably the safest car to ever be raced in NASCAR. Thanks to a larger body and reinforced roll cage, the Gen. 5 car was built more like a tank than a stock car. That might explain why it was so controversial. I started watching NASCAR during this era, and I can say from experience that the Gen. 5 car was a letdown. Its aerodynamic properties were problematic, with the rear wing and front splitter making it easier for the car to get airborne (the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do). Lackluster racing led to the Gen. 5 car going through multiple redesigns until it was finally axed at the end of 2012.

Generation 6: 2013-Present

The current generation of stock cars have a complicated history. While the Gen. 6 car did return to a carbon-fiber stock body, its engine and chassis are NASCAR-specific. Similar to the Gen. 5 car, the Gen. 6 has had numerous redesigns due to its problematic aerodynamic package, and fans are split on its legacy. I’ll say that the car has given us fans some legendary moments of NASCAR history, but the amount of controversy involving this car is too much to not acknowledge.

So as May 5 approaches, and the Gen. 7 gets prepared for its official debut, I’d say the excitement is at an all time high. What will this new car race like? What will be the defining moment of the car? And will it look good? We can only wait to find out.

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