CONCORD, N.C. - The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season will mark the second year that the sport's top series will run the Next Gen race car in competition. The Next Gen car was used in the 2022 season following extensive testing the previous year. The seventh-generation race car was initially slated to debut in 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the competitive debut for a season.
However, the rollout of this vehicle to the track was slightly different than what has been done in the past.
Let's wind the clock back to 16 years ago when the fifth generation of the Cup Series race car was implemented on a partial schedule during the 2007 season. The Cup Series did ran two completely different styles of race cars in competition during the same season. The archives of Hendrick Motorsports carry memories from this unique moment in the sport’s history.
Prior to 2007, the Cup Series had run the fourth generation of vehicles dating all the way back to 1992. After years of development, the sanctioning body of the sport announced that the 2007 season would feature a new type of race car. The vehicle was coined "The Car of Tomorrow" and was created with driver safety at the forefront. Rather than roll the car out for the entire year, NASCAR opted for a different route. Of the 36 points-paying races, 20 would feature the traditional fourth-generation body and chassis. The other 16 races would use the latest generation car in competition.
THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: Hendrick Motorsports' sports car racing lineage
The calendar year of 2007 was dominated by Hendrick Motorsports. The four-car lineup of Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears earned 18 victories, which was exactly half of the points-paying events that season. That mark of 18 wins serves as the most by the organization in a single season.
Hendrick Motorsports rolled off a stretch of nine wins in 10 races that started with Johnson's first win of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the third race of the year. In that run of wins was the first race to use "The Car of Tomorrow" - the fifth race of the season, which came at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The weekend began with Gordon becoming the first driver ever to take pole in the new car. While Gordon would ultimately settle for a third-place finish in the race, it was Busch driving the famed No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports entry that took the checkered flag for the first-ever victory in "The Car of Tomorrow" era. While it does not reside in the archives, this exact chassis is for sale through the Hendrick Motorsports certified race cars program.
As for the archives, there are several interesting artifacts from the 2007 season. The display celebrating the dominating season contains a die-cast from each victory of the year. This is especially unique as the collection features both fourth-generation and "The Car of Tomorrow" models. The team won nine races in each style of car, a mark of their consistency between the two rules packages. Their speed with both styles of race car served as a key factor in winning a seventh championship.
Mixed in with all of the replica cars sits a host of items from the 2007 championship, which was won by Johnson and the No. 48 team. Johnson earned the second of what would be seven championships in his career and his second of five consecutive titles. Along the way, the No. 48 accounted for 10 victories on the season. Up until Kyle Larson's 10-win season in 2021, Johnson had the most recent double-digit win season for the team. Gordon finished second to Johnson in the standings as well.
Currently on display to the public in the Hendrick Motorsports Museum are several fourth- and fifth-generation race cars. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET and offers fans the unique opportunity to see the famed vehicles from the organization’s past. Make sure to stop by soon and experience it for yourself.