After more than two years of development, numerous trips to the wind tunnel and countless hours spent testing at various facilities, NASCAR's Generation-6 car will officially hit the track for points competition, bringing with it a healthy dose of optimism from officials and competitors alike.
The Gen-6 program is the most comprehensive overhaul in the sport since the 2007 debut of the "Car of Tomorrow," and its goal is twofold: to re-establish brand identity among the automotive manufacturers and provide competitive upgrades in an effort to improve competition in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.
Reactions from drivers and officials have been largely encouraging with regard to the new piece.??
"The bulk of the work is done, spoiler sizes, the splitter, things of that nature," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said. "That's taken a lot of hard work.
"We've added some mechanical grip with the rear camber and we put some large margins in there to give teams opportunity to work on their rear end housings and get that grip. It will not be the same at every track you go to just like the tires won't be the same at every race track that you go to.
??"We're listening to some of that input, we're listening to the input about the aerodynamics, but for the most part we're keeping an open mind. At this point things seem to be fairly positive about everything we've been able to do."
Steve Letarte, crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., calls the new car "the perfect example" of technology helping out the sport.??
"I think we now have three makes out here that my little boy at 9 years old can tell the difference between," Letarte said. "And I think that's the goal. That anybody can walk through the parking lot and see a Chevy, Ford and Toyota and know they're different."
??Likewise, he said, technology can "prove that the best Chevy, the best Ford, the best Toyota are very close in the wind tunnel. That ... allows NASCAR to (give) the challenge back to the teams and to the manufacturers that 'you need to go to work on other areas of your car -- it's not in the body.'"??
The 2013 entries include the Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry. In spite of dramatic changes in the body styles of each, the cars produce comparable aerodynamic numbers because of similarities in the greenhouse areas.
??"When you look across the board, they all look so much different; the performance of the cars and the target numbers they all lay right on top of each other," Andy Graves, Toyota Sprint Cup Series program manager, said. "We have that parity, you don't feel like you've been outfoxed by one of your competitors but yet you get to put all of the character that keeps the car guys, all the manufacturers, happy, (knowing) that what is out on the race track is close to what's on the showroom floor."??
A Lesson Learned?
?NASCAR Chairman Brian France said the sanctioning body discovered a great deal when it rolled out the Car of Tomorrow in 2007. Built with a focus on safety, the car lost much of its brand recognition in the transition and initially proved to be problematic on the race track.
??"We learned a lot and I learned a lot personally on that particular debut of that car, and the collaboration -- I thought it was fairly high at the time -- it wasn't as high as it needed to be," France said. "The testing, the way we're doing it, manufacturer support, I thought it was pretty high. It wasn't high enough; it wasn't even close to high enough.
"??That shouldn't be a problem this time around, he said, in part because of how close the manufacturers have worked with one another and with officials, and because "I expect the drivers to have a lot more time under their belt" with this car.
??Kyle Busch, perhaps the biggest critic of the COT when it was introduced, said he believes this move is a huge step in the right direction.??
"This new car, I love it," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. "I think it looks awesome. It looks like a street car, which is great.
"??The COT "looked like nothing that was on any showroom floor," he said. "It had this stupid splitter on it with splitter braces; it had this dumb wing on it. I mean it was just horrible looking.??
"It drove horrendously. You couldn't race it; you couldn't get within 100 yards of one another."??
That dislike, however, didn't translate into poor performances for Busch, who earned 21 of his 24 career Cup victories in the COT, including the debut race for the entry at Bristol Motor Speedway.?
??Other changes may be far less evident to race fans, but that doesn't mean they are any less important.?
?Camber rules that will impact rear grip, a taller spoiler aimed at keeping downforce numbers across the three brands within close proximity of one another, and a lower minimum weight (from 3,450 to 3,300 pounds) for the car will impact how the car handles, especially in traffic.
??Officials believe the result will be improved racing, particularly on the series' 1.5- and 2-mile tracks.
??"We've strictly concentrated on that," Pemberton said. "We feel we've made tremendous gains in that area. So we're hoping that the teams can build the proper cars and get up to speed and that way they can put on a good race."