All eyes on Gen 6 cars as competitive debut nears
By RICK MINTER
With NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series set to kick off the 2013 campaign this weekend at Daytona International Speedway with the non-points Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night followed by pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, much of the focus will be on the new Generation 6 race car, which makes its first appearance in a competitive environment.
NASCAR president Mike Helton will be watching as closely as anyone, because he’s the one who will be responsible for making adjustments if one manufacturer winds up with a significant advantage over its competitors.
The new cars are built to more closely resemble the showroom versions they represent, so Fords, Chevrolets and Toyotas all have different shapes. NASCAR has made every effort to ensure that all cars, while having different characteristics, are equal aerodynamically, but the true test won’t come until there are points and money on the line.
Helton said that going into Speedweeks at Daytona, he believes the three manufacturers’ products are close aerodynamically.
“We gave the manufacturers the aero numbers to match up to and asked them to design a car that would do that,” he said. “In today’s world, we can use a lot of science and technology to go into the design of these cars from a competition aspect. Hopefully we’ve done that correctly, but with the uniqueness of the shapes of these things, we could get back to the days where we have to adjust spoilers or something, but we don’t think so.”
In an earlier era, it was almost a weekly occurrence to see representatives of race teams and manufacturers trekking to the NASCAR hauler in the garage to plead with Helton and other officials for rules tweaks to help them overcome disadvantages. Those disadvantages, both real and perceived, also were discussed and debated in many a water-cooler conversation across the NASCAR nation.
Helton said that the return of that kind of debate wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
“The design of the cars and matching up to the showroom cars represents a bit of a throwback of its own, so going back to arguing over who’s got the best aero package and who’s got the best horsepower is part of the rivalry of our sport,” he said. “That’s something we’ve got experience with. It’s not the worst thing.”
Helton also said he’ll be watching closely when the Gen-6 car makes its first competitive appearance on an intermediate-length track, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 10.
“We want the intermediate-track racing to get better,” he said. “We’d like to figure out how to keep the guy from getting out by himself and just running away from everybody.”
But he believes another unpopular kind of racing, one involving the two-car tandems that dominated recent races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, is a thing of the past with the new car. “I think it’s gone,” Helton said. “… What we’ve seen so far – and what the garage area thinks – is that it doesn’t work any more.”
Helton said the risks involved in tandem racing now far exceed the potential reward.
“In testing, we saw two cars hooking up, and one car by itself could run as fast as they could,” he said. “And drivers in the tandem have to rely even more on each other’s talent than they did in the past.”