Paulk: Could Gen-6 car be too good to be true?
If you ask Sprint Cup drivers about the Generation-6 car that debuts at the season-opening Daytona 500, they will tell you how eager they are to race it around the 2 1⁄2-mile oval at Daytona International Speedway.
They were impressed with the way it handled during testing at Daytona and Charlotte Motor Speedway. The aerodynamic changes, compared to the Gen-5, formerly known as Car of Tomorrow, has given them confidence to push through the sometimes-unforgiving Turn 2 at Daytona without surrendering much speed.
The Gen-6 appears almost too good to be true. There have been no complaints and no trashing NASCAR's brass for putting drivers into a car too big and too hard to handle, especially on short and intermediate racetracks.
I'm not buying it.
The Gen-6 might be all that, but I can assure you by the time the rigs pull out of Phoenix and Las Vegas, the imperfections will become apparent. It's always been that way.
If nothing else, Matt Kenseth gives the Gen-6 far more style points than the Gen-5.
“I think the look is the biggest thing, giving us more of a car that looks more cutting edge versus the box that we've been racing for the last five years,” said Kenseth, who left Roush-Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing. “I think the looks are the biggest key that the fans will like.”
Bruton Smith, a habitual and sometimes-obstinate owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., complained vehemently last week that the new car is too fast. He concedes the have-nots will be spotted an unfair advantage during the first half of the 36-race Sprint Cup season while others struggle to transition from the Gen-5.
This time, I agree with Smith. And so does Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin, who twice challenged Jimmie Johnson for the Cup championship, admitted the car was frighteningly fast during practice on cold-weather conditions at Charlotte Motors Speedway, a Smith-owned racetrack in Concord, N.C.
“It's good,” Hamlin said of the Gen-6. “I tested it at Phoenix at the end of last year, and it drove very similar to the car that we have now. I think NASCAR made a lot of aerodynamic changes to help the second car be able to pass the first car.
“The only challenge we're going to have is that they're running so fast. The arm throttle time is so much that it's going to be hard to see a variance of speed from one car to the next. I think you're going to see a great Daytona 500.”
The Daytona 500 — a restrictor-plate race at an unpredictable, oft-unforgiving track — is a different event than any other race. There is nothing, Greg Biffle acknowledged, drivers and crew chiefs can take away from Daytona that will help them when the regular season really begins at the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 3.
For now, everyone's focused on Daytona.
“From what I saw in the draft, the cars look great,” said Hamlin, a five-time winner last year. “You'll see pack racing, and you won't see the two-car tandems. It's going to be a car that fans are going to be excited about.”
Actually, I'm excited about the return of old-school racing at Daytona.
The tag-team racing was 198 parade laps, one lap of jockeying for position and one lap of racing.
In retrospect, maybe the Gen-6 is all that. With the exception of then-21-year-old Trevor Bayne's stunning victory in 2011, the fans have been disengaged at Daytona.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., too, seems engaged again.
“The draft reminds me of how we had the cars in 2006 and 2007,” Earnhardt said. “You can work with other people even though the bumpers don't line up the way they used, too. I'm looking forward to getting back to old-style plate races, which I think will provide an exciting Daytona 500.”
Roush set for 25th Cup season
Jack Roush said he's more enthusiastic than ever entering his 25th Sprint Cup season. Even though he lost Matt Kenseth, he's confident two-time Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. can help add to his 311-race win total.
“I'm as enthusiastic and as driven as I've ever been to take our absolute best effort to the racetrack every race,” Roush said. “We're anxious to build on that in our next 25 years.”
Ganassi secures another sponsor
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Lucas Oil Products Inc., have renewed their technical and sponsorship partnership in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, which begins with the team's two-car assault at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“I can't think of a better place to prove our Lucas Oil works than in 24 hours of all-out racing,” said Tom Bogner, Lucas Oil's director of motorsports. “We have had great success working with the Ganassi team using our oils.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib. Listen to the Auto Racing Show with Ralph N. Paulk on TribLive Radio every Friday from 9 to 10 a.m.