The Daytona 500 was the first race with a full field of cars in the new NASCAR generation six cars. The Chevy SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry all look like cars you can buy in the show room. The main feature of the car is that each manufacturer has its own distinct front end and side body parts. Gone are the applied stickers that create an illusion of difference. They actually are different.
The cars race, especially at high speed restrictor plate tracks different. The front of the cars no longer mates up with the rear of the cars. The driver has to be very careful on how they can push the car ahead of them. This changed the race at Daytona from the two car tandem style that had been prevalent in the past to pack racing more like the old days. Everyone is excited about these new cars.
The only blemish on the new car is that there appeared to be no way for the cars to run side by side up front. Most of the race, with the exception of a few laps immediately after a restart, was run with the cars up front in a single file line. This line was in the top lane of the speedway, not the bottom lane which was preferred with the prior cars. Many of the drivers said it was because of how the air comes off of the car. This side draft of the car in the upper lane would actually slow down the car in the lower lane. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin indicated differently.
“The problem was that the car on the inside of the frontline wasn’t the fastest car. If you would have had the fastest car in the field on the inside, you would have had a whale of a race there at the end.” Martin said, “but the top groove was the preferred groove. And I don’t think that had a lot to do with the Gen-6 as much as everybody was flying, the cars were fast, and the cars seemed to like the momentum you’d get off the corner.”
Dale Jr. said, “That first 150 miles, everybody commits to the top, there’s not enough guys to organize on the bottom, you get freight-trained. There’s too much risk. You work all day on track position because you got to be toward the front to have a shot at it. You hate to give up any track position. I saw guys like Gordon pull out, go to the back. Too much of a risk.”
Their statements after the race accurately reflect the racing that went on at Daytona. The only problem is those two drivers made a last lap pass to go from fourth and fifth on the inside to move up to second and third at the end of the race. They almost won the race by racing where no one could all day.
This means that questions about racing the new car remain. Is there a problem racing the car side by side in the draft or is it just that the drivers have not become comfortable with the “feel” of the new car in the draft? Either way Dale Earnhardt Jr. likes the new car and in the middle of his press conference added this.
“Just before I take off, I just wanted to say that I noticed something last night coming out of the track for dinner, just seemed to be a different vibe inside the infield. People seemed more excited about what was getting ready to happen today. Even today, there seemed to be a whole lot more people here. Seemed to be a lot more excitement about the race.“ Dale added.
Although the new car is still pretty much a work in progress it appears that NASCAR has “Hit one out of the park” by making the change to these car. NASCAR, the drivers and the fans are as excited as ever about the cars. When the drivers get used to driving them NASCAR will be exciting as ever.
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