News & Media

Last Gen-6 questions to be answered at Daytona

January 09, 2013, David Caraviello,

How cars handle, how much speed they achieve are among focal points

After months of testing and preparation, it’s finally time for the new cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to take their first laps around NASCAR’s most famous track.

The three-day test opening Thursday morning at Daytona International Speedway at last brings together the Generation-6 cars with the facility where they will compete for the first time next month. Preseason Thunder marks the first restrictor-plate test of the new cars since Talladega in October, and may answer any questions still lingering about more brand-identifiable vehicles that will debut in the Daytona 500.

The most pressing of all those remains the draft, a source of high curiosity to race fans since the advent of tandem drafting two years ago. By tweaking the cooling systems on the old car, NASCAR was able to revive pack racing and minimize the effectiveness of the tandem draft.

Preseason Thunder will present the largest number of cars ever assembled for a Gen-6 test, though results of the last plate-track session in Talladega left officials confident they were on the right track.


Sprint Cup Series testing; all times Eastern

Live stream: Watch Preseason Thunder morning sessions from Daytona here.

Thursday, Jan. 10
9 a.m.-noon -
1 p.m.-5 p.m. - SPEED

Friday, Jan. 11
9 a.m.-noon -
1 p.m.-5 p.m. - SPEED

Saturday, Jan. 12
9 a.m.-noon -
1 p.m.-5 p.m. - SPEED

“We felt we had good direction from last year to get the cars to drive well in the draft, and to reduce a lot of that tandem drafting,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “… We’re pretty confident that we’ve got a good package for Daytona and Talladega. Probably better than what we had last year, by a pretty fair margin.”

Seven cars took part in that Talladega test, while 35 are scheduled to appear in this week’s final shakedown before Speedweeks. Although teams will use single-car runs to fine-tune qualifying packages and optimize the speed in their vehicles, the three-day session is certain to feature the Gen-6 car in its largest pack drafts yet. Scott Miller, competition director for Michael Waltrip Racing, doesn’t believe the tandem approach will be effective given the specifications on the new car.

“I believe that since NASCAR has gotten the cooling package and all those rules mandated, it’s down to, will they be able to do it? Maybe. Will they be able to do it, and make it stick or count for much? Probably not, because it’s such a short period of time before the engines overheat,” he said. “I think it will be much the same as what we saw last year, where two guys couldn’t push out to a huge lead like we saw before NASCAR got the cooling package mandated back to where the cars would overheat if they pushed.”

Earlier this week, teams received a final rules package for Preseason Thunder that included a restrictor-plate opening of 29/32nds of an inch, the same as for 2012. The spoiler size has been set at 4 inches high and 53 inches wide, with an angle of 70 degrees. Miller believes there’s a good chance the same package will be used for Speedweeks, barring any surprises this week.

“As NASCAR will always do, if anything jumps out and something’s going the way we don’t need it to go, there’s a chance that they will adjust,” he said. “Like, if people have problems overheating, or we’re cooling too good and people are still able to push more then they would like, then I think they would adjust. … I think they’re close with this. It seemed like it at the last test. But until we get a bunch of cars out there and get them running, it’s going to be a little bit hard to etch in stone that this is it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some minor modifications, but I don’t see anything major.”

Although the Gen-6 cars have proven quite speedy on intermediate tracks -- Kasey Kahne turned a lap that would have set a new track record during a test at Charlotte last month -- Miller doesn’t expect the vehicles to be outrageously fast in mock qualifying runs at Daytona. Once again, though, the draft remains something of an unknown. Even so, drivers who took part in the Talladega test liked how the cars responded in the draft, allowing them to get better runs on their own, something the previous vehicle struggled with.

“I will tell you, I thought the test we did at Talladega went really well,” Brian Vickers said late last year. “The car drafted really well. Raced very well. Even with seven cars on the race track, we put on one heck of a show -- at least I thought so. And it solved a lot of the things, I think, that the fans critiqued about racing at those tracks.”

The Gen-6 car will go through further testing after Preseason Thunder, with another two-day session scheduled for next week at Charlotte, and the possibility that some teams will test at Las Vegas later in the month. But as the 2013 season begins, the spotlight is squarely on Daytona and a test that may reveal not only more about the new vehicles, but also which drivers might be strongest when the circuit returns to the 2.5-mile layout for real.

Of course, last year Kurt Busch and Regan Smith were the two fastest drivers in testing, and neither were in the mix at the end of the Daytona 500. With new cars now in play, Miller will look for other things in the speed charts -- like which manufacturers might be ahead of the game.

“This is completely in my viewpoint, but I would think the biggest thing that might be revealed down there at the test is if somehow or another one manufacturer has an advantage over another manufacturer,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case at all, but that might be something that comes out of the test if there’s anything there. From the wind-tunnel work and everything NASCAR’s put into that, everybody should be equal. But as in everything we do in racing, should be and actually are sometimes different.”