Through the first six races of the NASCAR Cup Season there’s been six different winners, including three first-time wins by drivers and one first-time win for an organization.
BJ McLeod and Live Fast Motorsports are not among them.
In fact, Live Fast Motorsports’ best finish so far is 19th at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
But you wouldn’t know it from McLeod’s assessment of the Next Gen car’s first batch of races.
“I absolutely am pleased with the results after six races, to see the parity of the Next Gen car, from small teams to big teams,” McLeod told SPEED SPORT. “There’s just so much more of a small window to work with with this car, that it keeps us a lot closer.”
“Closer” is relative for Live Fast Motorsports, which is in its second year of existence with McLeod and former Cup driver Matt Tifft as co-owners.
Through six races, with McLeod starting all but one (Andy Lally drove the No. 78 Ford at Circuit of the Americas), the team has an average finish of 28.35.
At this point in 2021, the last year of the Gen 6 car, the average was 29.8. However, in 2021 Live Fast has two lead-lap finishes compared to one at the same point last year and is finishing fewer laps off the pace than a year ago.
“We had lead-lap (finish at) Fontana, we had two laps down at Vegas, which at Vegas, we didn’t get a lot of help with cautions or anything, like we earned that,” McLeod said. “And we were (10 laps) down (there) in September. We’re so much closer to the lead pack than what we were, it’s been awesome to see that reality.”
When the 2022 season began, McLeod observed that Live Fast Motorsports “didn’t really set any exact expectations” for the first year of the Next Gen era.
“Because this is the toughest the Cup Series has been in at least 10 years, if not longer, as far as competition,” McLeod said. “We’re small fish in a big pond, right? We have a really uphill battle in front of us. But we wanted to see what the Next Gen car would do for us. … (Our belief) in this thing is why we come into the sport when we did.”
What’s behind McLeod’s view of the Cup competition level?
There’s fewer full-time teams like Live Fast Motorsports in the garage.
“If you look at it last year, we could run 30th easily, every week, no problem at all, a little bit higher,” McLeod said. “There was more low budget teams last year. With all the charter sells during the offseason and teams moving around, it really switched to where we went from, probably somewhere in the lineup of sixth in budget, six from the bottom, somewhere in that area. … And now there’s really no one.
“If you look at it, I would say we’re probably the lowest budget team in the sport. And that’s the biggest change from last year. And with the money comes the infrastructure, and you’re nothing without people. We need to build up our shop resources and everything to be able to make our team stronger. And there’s more teams this year that have that and like I said, I know I’ve paid attention since 2012. There’s never been the amount of competitive teams that are there right now since 2012. It’s not even close.”
McLeod didn’t get a chance to drive the Next Gen car until last November at one of the organizational tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
His first takeaway from the car was that it reminded him of a Super Late Model.
“The seat sits lower, you can see less, which I enjoy,” McLeod said. “It’s got sequential transmission, right? That’s not a super late model. But that’s really cool. It’s just a different animal altogether.”
But likely the most important thing for Live Fast Motorsports is the car’s durability.
“It’s putting on unbelievable racing, you can actually beat and bang now without cutting tires down left and right. That’s huge for us,” McLeod said. “It’s a lot more fun knowing that and you know even the car that we that we wrecked Sunday (at Circuit of the Americas), everything’s fine, we just had an upper suspension failure because of point of contact. There was no way it was going to survive. But the body and everything popped right back out, the tire wouldn’t even have got cut. To know that is pretty cool to see the way you can race them now.”
McLeod said the savings for his team just in not having to deal with R&D “are going to be astronomical.”
While it came at Atlanta Motor Speedway and it occurred under caution, McLeod has checked off one career achievement this season.
The 38-year-old driver led his first laps in the NASCAR Cup Series in his 90th start.
“Somebody told me that after the race, I was laughing, I didn’t even know that,” McLeod said.
Regardless of the circumstances, do those two laps have any significance to the native of Wauchula, Florida?
“Where I come from, in my dreams as a kid and working through this whole process and how long it’s taken me to get to be a driver in the Cup Series, absolutely it means something,” McLeod said. “For the person that I am right now? In one ear, out the other. Means nothing. … But yeah, if you go back to where we started, if you told me I’d ever lead a Cup race, and under caution or green, whatever, I’d be like, ‘it’s probably not gonna happen, but I’m gonna try.'”
You can listen to the full interview with BJ McLeod below.