The Frontstretch: NASCAR's Gen-6 Stumbles Out Of the Gate At Daytona: Can It Be Fixed? by Mike Neff -- Monday February 25, 2013

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NASCAR's Gen-6 Stumbles Out Of the Gate At Daytona: Can It Be Fixed?

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday February 25, 2013

 

The time and effort that has been poured into the rollout of the Gen-6 Cup car is probably more than the GDP of most Third World countries. The manufacturers have cooperated with each other in unprecedented fashion, and NASCAR has worked with all of them to make the cars as equal as possible while still maintaining the characteristics of the street cars they represent. The release has been forced down the throats of the fans, media and drivers to make sure everyone is on the same page as NASCAR tries to move back to the head of the sports landscape, or at least in the passenger’s seat next to the NFL. Unfortunately, after the first eight days of exposure on the racetrack in competitive events, the report card is somewhere between a C- and an F.

Before the tweets and hateful emails start rolling in from everyone in Detroit, Japan, Daytona and all points in between, restrictor plate racing is far from the only yardstick that will be used to measure this car. In fact, with just four of 36 point races being on plate tracks, there is no need to jump to harsh conclusions after one point race (and three exhibitions). The problem with having the biggest event of the Cup season right out of the gate, though is that more people, fans and non-fans, watch that one than any other on the schedule. As a result, the first impressions of the Gen-6 car are that it is even less competitive than the Generation 5/COT.

Will the new race cars provide fans with better racing… or will it be just a better-looking COT?

After the Sprint Unlimited, Kevin Harvick was quick to point out that, after the initial wreck, there were only 12 cars left on the track and that a line of four cars was not going to be able to move faster than a line of eight. That sounded great until the Budweiser Duels on Thursday. There were 22 and 23 cars in those races and yet it was still a single-car parade around the top of the track, with almost no attempt at two-wide racing after five laps following a restart. You might still be able to play it off that teams knew, barring a major incident, they were going to be in the Daytona 500 and that starting position is unimportant in that race — so why dice it up and potentially damage your 500 car? That all sounded plausible until the green flag dropped on the Great American Race.

Jeff Gordon led the first lap of the race and by lap five, there were at least 15 cars in a single-file parade at the front of the pack. During the event, there were six caution flags which meant there were two rounds of green-flag pit stops. Green-flag pit stops can lead to an exaggerated number of lead changes when, in reality, it is just the cycle of cars getting their service. There were 28 lead changes in Sunday’s Daytona 500, which in itself isn’t a high number to begin with. But after taking out the lead changes during green-flag stops, it appears as though the number of actual, on-track passes for the lead was somewhere very close to 10. Restrictor plate racing isn’t for everyone but, whether you like it or hate it, one thing it has always provided is a myriad of on-track passes for the lead. To see only 28 total passes for first place and have roughly 10 of them be on-track is abysmal.

You can’t blame all of this poor racing on the car. Jimmie Johnson proved, late in the race, that you could make a move on the bottom of the track, although the top line was being led by a car with a damaged front end. There very well may have been several factors that played into drivers’ decisions not to press the issue in the bottom line for most of the race. Saturday’s race finish was fresh on everyone’s mind and many of the competitors may have just decided they didn’t want to risk life and limb to race all out in the event. Car parts might also be weighing on teams’ minds. Hoods and deck lids are still not in abundant supply for this new car design and, especially in the Ford camp, a large number of race cars have been torn up in the last eight days. Drivers and teams may have just been conservative because they don’t have a choice. If they tear up their car, then they’ll be even further behind heading into the early stages of the season. Finally, it may have just been simple physics with the new car. This chassis, in this configuration, just might be faster around the top of the race track.

One thing is for sure; something has to be changed before this new generation of race car hits the high banks of NASCAR’s longest oval in Talladega, Alabama. It may mean the return of the wicker bill, it may mean a bigger spoiler to punch a bigger hole in the air, or it may mean the rear spoiler made even smaller so that drivers are forced to lift and hit the brakes from time to time. One thing is for sure; NASCAR knows that seeing 40 cars driving around in a single-file line for dozens of laps until a caution flag flies is not what fans are going to pay to see. The Trucks put on another exciting race and, until the crash at the finish, the Nationwide event was tremendous. The sport’s powers that be will come up with a new way to have Cup cars pass each other, under power, for the lead and stay in the packs that fans have told the sanctioning body they want to watch.

As was stated at the beginning of this article, this race was the Gen-6 car’s debut. It is one of four plate races that are contested for points. Remember, the majority of the events on the schedule, including 50% of the Chase are on intermediate race tracks. When the engineers were given the mandate for this new car, it was supposed to look like the street car and it was supposed to promote closer racing on those “cookie cutters” that have gotten rather stale as of late. Even Phoenix is going to be a unique event because it is unlike any other track with its dogleg. When the series gets to Las Vegas in March, then makes it to California and Texas and Kansas we’ll see what the car really has to offer. If the racing is great and drivers can pass more easily for the lead on the track, it may be worth sacrificing the plate race excitement that fans have grown accustomed to. If the races on the intermediates are as bad or worse than Daytona, we very well could be seeing the beginning of the end for NASCAR.

Here’s hoping that the Daytona 500 was just the first pop quiz of the semester and, although it was tough and the first grade of the year was near failing, some extra homework and maybe some tutoring will get this car to the head of the class. Don’t write it off just yet; even the Sistine Chapel started with a rough sketch. But it had better improve, and fast.

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Bill B
02/25/2013 09:55 AM
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Well said Mike.
Still, I’ll believe it (better racing at the non PR races) when I see it.

GinaV24
02/25/2013 10:40 AM
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Agreed that Daytona is NOT the best place to judge this car, but NASCAR has a very limited time IMO to convince the fans (including me) that the racing will be better with this car. I disliked the COT so much and the racing has gotten so snoozeworthy – whether watching on TV or even worse – at the track itself, that i am not going to give them a big window of time to get it right. I have other things to do with my time and $.

The drivers should be able to pass in these cars – even at RP tracks. Gordon said on his radio that he couldn’t even pick off a car one at a time. Once they got the freight train moving, unless there were at least 10 cars together, no one could make a move.

Michael in SoCal
02/25/2013 10:49 AM
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I think a big part of the reason the race was so boring for long stretches of single-file racing is the drivers know they have to still be on track at lap 195 to be able to contend for that win. That means logging laps and running single-file for mind numbing lap after lap as they inch towards the end of the race.

Steve
02/25/2013 11:51 AM
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You know things are bad when Nascar has to throw debris cautions at Daytona to stop the boredom.

Having said that, I don’t think the end is near in Nascar like the author mentions. If he’s right and it does, maybe we can start all over and go back to racing on short tracks again where aero doesn’t matter and driver ability does.

Wayne T. Morgan
02/25/2013 11:59 AM
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First and foremost the car is still controled by NA$CAR and you have ne leeway as usual to tune it the way you want. So just drink the Kool-Aid and agree with Momma NA$CAR on how great it is.

Larry C
02/25/2013 12:14 PM
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Can it possibly be that the “Super Speedway” has out lived it’s usefulness. The racing has never really been that good at the super speedway tracks. The thrill of seeing cars go 200 mph though the turns is long over with. The danger it presents by racing at those speeds is apparent. Is there actually going to have to be a tragedy in the stands before we knock down the high banks and slow the cars to a controllable speed? That being said, Daytona has told us nothing about this car, the next race will give a better picture as to what this car is all about.

Upstate24fan
02/25/2013 12:55 PM
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This is the wrong race to judge the new car by. The judging starts next week at Phoenix and the week after at Vegas. It’s the racing at the intermediates that the Gen-6 car was targeted with improving.

Plate racing will always be a moving target, and what we saw Sunday wasn’t that different from the plate racing in the late 1990s. The threat of the “big one” will also always encourage caution early in a race, especially if there is an early wreck like they had yesterday. Way too early to jump to conclusions.

Airhed316
02/25/2013 03:38 PM
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Was it the car as much as it was NASCAR’s use of the plate. This race did seem lame. Very little movement in the running order once pit stops were done. Another example of the plate failure was the 2000 Fall Loudon race where Jeff Burton led all laps and next to zero passing occurred all day long. The plate was instituted after Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty suffered fatal crashes in turn 3. I left that race thinking it was awful. You could have returned to the car because nothing changed as far as run order, until a pit stop occured. It was NASCAR’s reaction to the second death in 2 months, but it showed how the plate hampers true performance of the cars. Should NASAR have gone a different route by advancing tire grip, engine performance, lighter cars instead of trying to keep car speeds below 200mph at Super Speedways? It seems as though Open wheel circuits do less to de-tune their cars and keep a level of performance that remains in the drivers abilities and not derating the cars.

GinaV24
02/25/2013 05:03 PM
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Wayne, I don’t like Kool-Aid!

tj in tbay
02/25/2013 07:17 PM
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Look – plate racing in it’s current form sucks – no matter what the car. Either it’s follow-the leader or its “love-bug” 2 car drafts, or it’s “the big one”, or it’s the roll-the-dice way that a winner is chosen – it just sucks! Until they figure out a way to take the plates off and run at full power while figuring out how to make the drivers actually lift in the corners (like at Pocono), it will continue to suck. Either they have to get rid of some of the banking at Daytona and ‘Dega, or go to old-school (narrower and harder) tires or both. But as long as these restricted engines have less power than my Subaru (literally…less power than my Subaru…), then passing won’t happen without drafting or help from another car and the packs will stay and the crashes will happen and the races will have one problem or another. But good luck getting ISC to take out banking and good luck getting Goodyear to do something for the good of the sport…

Overra88ted
02/25/2013 07:48 PM
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Hey Na$crap and ISC…. Talledaga is going to be BORING!

 

Contact Mike Neff

Recent articles from Mike Neff:

Thinkin' Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
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