Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: 2013 Daytona Speedweeks Kickoff a Mix of Old & New

As we approach Daytona Speedweeks’ 2013 kickoff this weekend, with Media Day well underway as you read this article, there is as much talk about looking to the past as there is heading towards the future.

The Gen-6 car will make its debut in competition for the first time Saturday night in the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race. The sixth iteration to the Cup car to compete is really, in my mind version 3.0 for the CoT. After an update in 2010, one that axed the front splitter and rear wing, the latest version is said to embrace more of the street-car cues of its production counterparts. Much like the Nationwide Series regained some notoriety, starting to develop an image of its own with the throwback styling of the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang, the Cup cars now look more “street stock” than they have in nearly 20 years.

There will be aspects, though that harken back to a simpler time with the new car. Much like in the early 1980s, Dodge has all but vanished once again from NASCAR, save for Morgan Shepherd’s effort in the Nationwide Series. Chevrolet has been left thumping their chest about the new SS being the only rear-wheel drive, V8-powered production car in the field – albeit due to Dodge’s departure – although their car isn’t due in showrooms until the end of the year. (And had to be engineered in Australia, then rebadged from the long defunct Pontiac G8. Lumina fans, take heart.)

Even Ford is appearing retro in various ways; well, at least “one of them” is. The Wood Brothers announced that 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne will be piloting the colors driven to victory 50 years ago by DeWayne “Tiny” Lund for this year’s event. Lund’s win was as unlikely as Bayne’s as he was a substitute driver, filling in for the injured Marvin Panch whose life he saved just days earlier.

Holding true to tradition is the running of the Busch Cla… er, the Bud Shoot… I mean, the Sprint Unlimited as the first race of the season. It used to be held the week before the Daytona 500 during the day and it was quite simple: a 20-lap sprint (literally) to the finish with no pit stops needed. In 1991, when restrictor plates made things pretty boring, the format was updated. The race was broken into two 10-lap green-flag segments with the field inverted for the second 10-lapper. Considering what today’s plate races have devolved into – riding around for three hours before trying the last 20 laps – this format would probably be ideal nowadays.

Alas, further tinkering with perfection was preferred, and the race was eventually drug out to a 25-lap first segment, then intermission, followed by a 50-lap race. Why, I have no clue. Probably because you can sell more commercials and beer over the course of 75 laps.

This year, governing has gone out the window, and the fans will now be responsible for voting on the segments. The race’s eligibility, taking a turn towards history, is limited to previous year pole winners only and prior winners of the event – not “whomever has a full-time ride this coming season.” The lineup will be determined on race day by a fan vote based on career wins, 2012 points standings finish, most nose hair or the order in which they won their poles the previous year. The format itself will also be a fan vote, broken up into three segments totaling 75 laps.

While I am not really a fan of the constant format fiddling of this event, the All-Star Race or the points system, it is a definite change to what we had become accustomed to. As much flack as NASCAR takes, you have to give them credit for finally listening to the fans – those who were actually still showing up and tuning in. Nobody liked the splitter and the wing – boom, outta here. Two-car tandems getting boring? Cover up the grille and make it run hot quicker. That Fusion looks nothing like what Carl Edwards has ripped the front end off of? Suddenly, cars look like cars again. Kind of.

There’s even a new truck, the “Air Titan,” which is said to reduce track-drying time by up to 80%. Presumably, since it also blows mainly compressed air, its flash point and burn rate is also greatly reduced if Juan Pablo Montoya is in the neighborhood.

What is a bit frustrating, however is that we’re a week off of what the schedule should truly be and always had been until last year. The Daytona 500 is supposed to be run the second Sunday in February. Last year, tradition was tinkered with, and look what happened – the first rain delay in this great race’s history and an event that nearly got finished on Tuesday afternoon.

Had the Unlimited been run last week, well it would have been smack dab in the middle of the massive blizzard that buried much of the northeastern United States. I seem to remember that happening back in 1979 and it being kind of a big deal, one that minted a legion of new race fans who were forced to watch TV that day.

Perhaps with this new car, new format and a new attitude within the sanctioning body, we can pick up where things left off back in ’79 one more time.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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