After much hype during Speedweeks, the generation six car made its on track debut during the Sprint Unlimited race Saturday night. And as with most shootout races of the past few years, NASCAR fans were unable to form many judgments about the type of racing that could be expected during the Daytona 500.
Any hopes of drivers pushing the envelope where quickly dashed by Tony Stewart causing a pileup when he came down on the nose of Marcos Ambrose early in the race, creating a timid tone. Besides that, the only contact also came from Stewart, as he created contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. mid-race.
Overall, the cars did show optimistic signs, eliminating the two-car drafting that fans had wanted gone. The closing rates are what were most surprising from the Sprint Unlimited. Consistently cars were able to hold the draft and close rapidly from times up to a half a second.
The thing that has seemed to bewilder drivers and spotters alike is not the closing rate itself, but when cars are truly clear of each other. Twice now, there have been multiple cars torn up because of drivers coming down when they thought they were clear.
First, during the Sprint Unlimited practice, Matt Kenseth inexcusably cut down on the nose of Kurt Busch early in the session, taking out many cars in the process. It seemed as though this was not a driver issue but an issue of spotters clearing the cars in the harsh Daytona sunset.
Then, it happened again with more disastrous results in the shootout itself. This time it was Stewart that made the mistake, blocking Ambrose with disregard. Perhaps it was poor timing, or perhaps he truly didn’t know he wasn’t clear, but that incident caused a chain reaction pile-up.
These incidents have plenty of time to be worked out, with many practice sessions and the Budweiser Duels to go, and these issues should be resolved by the time The Great American Race rolls around, the drivers and spotters should be better in sync, meaning there will be plenty of cars left to fight it out at the end of The Daytona 500.
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