As the NFL fades away this week, sports fans across the country turn towards the next big event on the schedule: NASCAR’s Super Bowl. After a three-month hiatus, Daytona beckons as the 38-week, 2013 schedule descends upon us.
But the Great American Race is the Great NASCAR Beginning, the start of a journey that takes us to Las Vegas, Pocono and nearly two dozen American locales in between. There’s plenty of unanswered questions about what’s to come, a year filled with changes from the Gen-6, to new qualifying, to new competitive rookies for the first time in over four years. So let us get you revved up once again; it’s Frontstretch season preview time, all week setting up not only the Sprint Cup season and the excitement of our coverage to come.
Today’s Season Preview Topic: All we’ve heard about this offseason is the Gen-6, Gen-6, Gen-6 and how it’s ready to fix NASCAR’s problems. Based on what you’ve seen in testing, heard from teams or through your sources will the car be as competitive as we’re being told? Also, will we see some of the underdogs break through, creating parity versus the upper-class teams or will the Hendricks, Roushs, etc. have the edge?
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: In some ways, after the Car of Trash (err, tomorrow) was finally thrown in the dumpster the Gen-6 can’t do any worse. I think initially, with its physical look alone fans are going to offer it a longer honeymoon period because for the first time in over a dozen years, they’re visually appealing. Are they the cars you drive around on the street? Let’s not get carried away on LSD here. But it’s a substantial, leap-in-the-right-direction improvement from where we’ve been.
With the handling of the race cars, I’d say the jury’s still out. Some superstars have noted to me there’s more downforce, making these cars easier to run side-by-side on intermediate tracks. Clearly, the plate races will be different, likely better with the homoerotic dating ritual known as “tandem pairings” nearly impossible. I do worry about the final two laps of the Daytona 500, when some drivers try it anyway and the potential is there for wreck, after wreck, after wreck to turn the ending into an embarrassing Demolition Derby. But in general, my guess is we’ll have a more competitive year with the new body styles contributing to an unpredictable learning process jumbling up several finishes.
As 2013 wears on, though I will say that there’s a downside to making these cars easier for the drivers to handle, the “chicken or the egg” quandary NASCAR is constantly addressing. (Note: to me, more downforce means easier to handle over time even if right now, the drivers are whining it’s difficult. They’ll adjust). Anyways, if the mentality is still “race in place and collect your top-10 finish for Chase time” I think the boring, first 300 miles of intermediate events lately won’t change their tone. You have to give drivers more incentive to run for position early than just a race-able car, especially these days when they’re all financially secure. Finally, on the engineering side NASCAR still has the rules so constrained I wonder if the pecking order of teams can ever change. Yes, we did see some breakthroughs in testing, single-car teams like Germain Racing (Casey Mears) cracking the top 5 at times. But in the long run, the less creativity you have the more these cars lean towards the top-level engineers, guys who can use the wind tunnel and expensive tools at their disposal to crank out the extra thousandths of a second. Who’s going to be employing said engineers? Tommy Baldwin Racing? I don’t think so.
“BOWLES: WHAT WE CAN TAKE AWAY FROM TESTING”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/42223/
Mike Neff, Short Track Editor: The Gen-6 car is definitely an upgrade from the CoT. It appears as though there is more downforce on the front of the car along with greater mechanical grip. Crew chiefs are telling us that the increased downforce will make it easier to get close to a car and actually pull out and pass. That would seem counterintuitive, though because increased downforce would seem to require more air on the nose. The one thing that does seem to be true is that the car is harder to drive. That means it will put a greater emphasis on driver ability and a good driver will be able to do things with the car to make it respond.
“NEFF: WHAT MAKES THE GEN-6 CAR DIFFERENT”:https://frontstretch.com/mneff/42240/
Everyone is saying the car will lead to better racing but it is yet to be seen if that is true. That said, it will not give lesser-funded teams an option to break through. Yes, there will be two or three times this season that a team finds a setting or configuration that gives them an advantage. It will be similar to when Roush figured out how crabbing the car would make it faster. Unfortunately for lesser-funded teams, they don’t have the resources to find those little advantages. They are destined to spend their race weekends battling for 20th on back; a great weekend, outside of restrictor plate tracks, will continue to be a 15th-place finish.
Tony Lumbis, Marketing Director: It’s tough to tell what the impact will be on the intermediate tracks from the limited testing so far. I do believe that it will change the game on the superspeedways. “Regan Smith commented in his Driver Diary series last year”:https://frontstretch.com/rsmith/38969/ that expectations were that the bumpers won’t line up, meaning you won’t be able to push the crap out of the car in front of you. With that in mind, the tandems should be gone (which we’ve seen in early testing) and NASCAR won’t be forced to break them up, meaning no smaller radiators and overheating issues.
The new car should also give crew chiefs some more wiggle room in what they can do with the cars, which hopefully will translate into races where not everyone is running the same speed, making it impossible to pass. Team contraction over the past few seasons has also resulted in smart minds going to smaller teams (see Steve Hmiel and Tony Eury, Jr. as competition director and crew chief respectively at Swan Racing). Considering the theory that crew chiefs should be able to be more “crafty” with their setups, I think it is possible for some underdogs with bright minds atop the pit box to succeed.
Danny Peters, Senior Writer: The simple answer is: let’s hope so. Certainly, the early signs are promising but that’s all they are at this stage. We’ll know a lot more after the first five races. As for the underdogs, well, I’m figuring it will still be business as usual for the big teams with perhaps someone like Kurt Busch springing a surprise for Furniture Row Racing.
Brett Poirier, Senior Writer: First off, I’ve always disagreed with the notion that changing the car or any equipment to it is somehow going to allow underfunded teams to compete with the elite. The Gen-6 car leveled the playing field — for about 10 seconds. The moment that stuck out the most to me from the Daytona test was when SPEED showed a table of about 12 Gibbs engineers studying data on their laptops. Do you think Phoenix and Front Row Motorsports have that luxury? A race hasn’t even been run and already the smaller teams are behind because as always it comes down to money and resources.
I am a believer in the Gen-6 car, though, but not a dreamer. I don’t see anyway this car could be worse than the previous in terms of racing side-by-side and aero push. Bringing back the showroom look gives each brand its own identity again, but it also could give one manufacturer an edge again at the bigger tracks.
Amy Henderson, Managing Editor: Is the new car the magic bullet that will instantly make every race non-stop excitement from flag-to-flag? No, it isn’t, nor should anyone expect it to be. What it should resemble, though is a car that looks like its showroom counterpart and one that the drivers seem to genuinely enjoy driving. It has a ton of rear grip, and that should help with passing. Aerodynamic dependency, no matter how much people hate it, is a fact of life, even with these cars — because street versions are also much more aerodynamic than they used to be. New models in the showroom don’t look like a 1985 Buick any more, and if you build race cars to look like street cars, well, the days of them punching a hole in the air like a brick crashing through a window are over.
Does that mean the new car won’t be an improvement? No, because all indications are that it will be. It will create true competition between manufacturers, and those “car wars” are good for the sport as long as one doesn’t gain a huge, unanswered advantage or NASCAR doesn’t have knee-jerk reactions to every little complaint. The cars are really nice to look at, they do drive differently than the previous machines, and those are definite positives.
S.D. Grady, Senior Editor: No car will fix all of NASCAR’s problems. However, the Gen-6 is visibly appealing, and drivers that enjoy piloting by the seat of their pants have been granted their wish with the aero package. It’s got some new safety innovations, and that’s never bad. Competitive? Parity? That’s always left in the hands of the teams. The monsters like Hendrick and Roush will continue to dominate the sport, and the smaller ones will struggle. It takes money and a large staff in order to beat the competition, not just the dream of winning a Sprint Cup race and a new car.
Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: We still haven’t really seen much testing with multiple cars racing together outside of Daytona, so it is still a little early to tell as to whether it will be more competitive. However, the car is apparently more floaty than the old CoT. The thought is that mechanical setup will play more of a role than aerodynamics. Let’s hope so. All we do know for sure is that the cars will have more downforce and will be faster.
Underdogs might have a slightly better chance at competitiveness early in the season, like when the CoT was introduced in 2007. However, expect that advantage to be whittled away as the season goes on.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: I am not convinced that the Gen-6 cars are going to give us closer racing at all tracks. Places like Chicagoland, Kansas, Indy and even Dover (those last two being places I love to get to) I don’t know if what kind of cars they race at those places really matters. The designs of those tracks just don’t seem to be ideal for close, side-by-side competition. Maybe it’s the banked straightaways, maybe the corners are too narrow at Indy? Whatever the reason, close finishes just don’t seem to pan out there. I will say, despite those disadvantages the new car has got to be an improvement over the CoT. Last year’s race at Indy was a real grass grower (i.e. – as exciting as watching grass grow.)
There’s no doubt the elite teams will have the edge early in the season. Better testing, better engineering, better engine programs. The other teams, though should start to make gains when the series hits tracks for the second time, because they’ll have similar information to go on.
Matt Stallknecht, Senior Writer: Given time, I firmly believe that the Gen-6 car will be every bit as competitive as NASCAR is telling us it will be. From what I have been told, the aero profile of the new cars is such that they will handle much better in traffic. These cars were also given a huge bump up in downforce on non-plate tracks, changes which will increase grip and strengthen the effect of the draft (mostly due to the tall spoiler). All of those things will go a long way in improving the on-track product, especially at 1.5-mile facilities which are in the most dire need of intensified racing.
The plate races will also benefit from the Gen-6 car as well. With the advent of the two-car tandem and super grippy track repaves, Daytona and Talladega had become a bit of a free-for-all over the past two or three years. That is going to change in a big way in 2013, as the aero package that the Gen-6 cars will sport at this year’s plate races has a great deal less downforce than that of previous years. This adjustment will turn back the clock a bit and make the style of drafting more similar to that of the early 2000s, a time where driver skill and drafting prowess were paramount to success at superspeedway venues.
As far as underdogs go, don’t count on them having much more success than they usually do. Teams like Front Row Motorsports and Tommy Baldwin Racing have made some serious gains over the offseason, but even with the leveled playing field fostered by the Gen-6 car, their overall lack of resources will prevent them from making any serious noise in 2013.
P. Huston Ladner, Senior Writer: First, while changing the car is an excellent and necessary move, it will not be the panacea that cures all the ills of NASCAR. The drivers have, in what seems like a unanimous outpouring, all decried that the Gen-6 ride will be much better than the CoT. OK, so let’s say they like it more and that they feel that they will be in more control rather than fighting “aero push” and other issues. That doesn’t mean the racing will improve.
Just like the previous iteration of the car, some companies will adjust faster, just like some drivers. Being realistic, however, once again engineering will be the key component. Hence, the teams with the best resources will be the ones to come out strong – which probably means Hendrick, just like when the CoT was implemented.