Gen-6 Sprint Cup Car Ready For Action
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Considered one of the best moves NASCAR has made in years by creating a new car that looks like the production models sold in showrooms, the Generation Six is about to hit the track for the first time in a competitive environment when Sprint Unlimited practice begins Friday afternoon at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
The 19 drivers that will compete in Saturday night’s race will get a head start on figuring out the new cars before the full field of drivers entered in this year’s Daytona 500 get a chance to practice on Saturday.
NASCAR officials are pleased with the way the new cars have performed in testing. Compared to the struggles that came with the previous version of car known as the “Car of Tomorrow” that Kyle Busch drove to victory at Bristol and then said it drove like a “Milk Crate” there haven’t been any disparaging comments made to this “Instant Classic.”
“Things are looking pretty good,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition. “We’ve had an opportunity in all of 2012 to do a lot of on-track testing with teams and with Goodyear. We believe we have the best package ever to start a season off. The input from the drivers and the teams and engineers and our engineers — things seem to be heading in the right direction for great competition on the race track. The drivers are really going to like these cars and they are going to like hustling them around the corners.
“We’ve been fairly open with the introduction of these cars. Ford introduced first followed by Toyota and Chevrolet was the last to introduce their car. The fans have really voiced their opinion they like what they see and are very interested to see what goes on on the race track. It was a long process. It started way back when we brought the new Nationwide car online with the Mustang and Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Malibu, which is now going to be the Camaro. We had already talked to the manufacturers in late 2009 about making the Cup car more relevant.
“We think we have a home run here.”
Despite preseason testing at Daytona and Charlotte Motor Speedway and a tire test at Darlington drivers and teams were able to learn the characteristics of the new race cars but many admit many of their questions won’t be answered until they hit the track at Daytona to prepared for the Feb. 24 Daytona 500.
Between now and the Daytona 500 NASCAR drivers and teams are preparing for the unknown variables that the new car presents.
That is why some drivers will take a “Test Pilot Mentality” into this week’s preliminaries to see what this car is capable of in terms of Bump Drafting, traditional drafting or other tricks of the trade that will mean victory in NASCAR’s biggest race.
“I would assume that’s what it’s going to be like,” said three-time champion Tony Stewart. “Somebody is going to have the nerve to try it, be impatient and try it. That’’s when we’ll have the answer.”
Several years ago when Bump Drafting was the rage at Daytona and Talladega which often resulted in mass mayhem Stewart was outspoken about that style of racing. He advocated that NASCAR officials could end that practice by making sure the front bumpers did not match the same height as the rear bumper on another car.
Two years ago, they jacked up the rear ends but that created an even odder form of racing known as “Two-Car Tandems” where the trailing car could actually get its nose under the front car and create a more compact aerodynamic vacuum. Of course, the second car in line would overheat the engine and would eventually have to swap positions or devise a way to get cooler air into the radiator.
During preseason testing at Daytona in January drivers attempted to run in a large pack on the second day of testing but when bump drafting was attempted it triggered a multi-car crash that ended the test session for many teams.
“We’ve only seen one guy try it so far, it didn’t end up very well,” Stewart said of that incident. “I doubt that’s the last time we’ll see it tried. I’ll say by Thursday we’ll have a really clear idea if that’s going to be possible or not.
“It’s a theory. Like I say, I think having Saturday and Thursday night’s races is good. The logic, if you push a guy, it picks the guy up and wrecks him, doesn’t make guys want to do that much if that’s the end result.”
It’s a near certainty however that these drivers will want to test the limits of the new package which could make practice and the preliminary races more valuable than ever at Daytona. But who will be the first to test whether the new car can bump draft?
“You’ll see somebody try it,” Stewart boldly predicted. “Somebody is bound to try it again. Just because it didn’t work the first time doesn’t mean somebody else isn’t going to try it. I will say at some point during practice somebody will try it. It may just be on the straightaway at first, but somebody’s going to try it to see if they can make it work. If one makes it work, everybody is going to figure out how to do it.
“I’m too old to be the first guy to try anything now. So I’ll anxiously wait for the crew chief to say, ‘Yeah, that just happened and we’re going to have to figure it out.’ I think you got to go out and at least see what’s going on. You got to see how the car is going to react. You’re going to have to see mostly how it sucks up and how when you get there how it pushes a guy without physically touching the bumper.
“We’ve always talked about air being like a spring between the cars and that’s still in play. I think you’re still going to have to go out there and physically figure that out, figure out what you have to do, what you can and can’t get away with.”
Stewart believes the new car has a lot of downforce and is easier to drive than the previous version of race car. That will allow drivers to be more aggressive on the race track which NASCAR hopes results in better racing.
Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, the winner of the first-ever Nationwide Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last July, never liked the previous version race car because of the way it looked.
“I 100 percent agree with that,” said four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon. “That was the first thing I noticed about the COT, that I didn’t like the way it looked. I expressed my opinions. I didn’t like the way it drove either.
“In the last couple years, we made that car drive really well — but at a price. You hear the TV commentators saying, ‘What is that car doing? It’s running sideways down the straightaway.’ Through inspection line, NASCAR’s head was spinning trying to figure out what these teams were doing (with that car).
“What’s nice about this car is it’s going to start off looking good, driving good, looking like a race car should look.”
To a driver, this is a car they enjoy strapping into and taking the wheel. It’s the return of the Hot Rod to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.
“It’s a great car,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s a step in the right direction. There’s so much to learn. We’ll make it a better car. Over the year, we’ll learn what the car likes and doesn’t like. I think it’s starting off on the right foot. I say positive things about it because that’s the way I feel. But I think everybody needs to just be patient, let the car kind of come to us; let us sort of improve the car over time.
“I think it’s a great direction we’re going in. The potential for us to really enjoy this car, it to give us and provide us with good racing is good.”