RICHMOND, Va. -- Clint Bowyer had just endured a nerve-jangling, two-lap shootout at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night, but became distracted in the media center discussing his hard-fought runner-up finish. As he watched post-race footage alongside third-place finisher Joey Logano, he started to channel his inner public-address announcer and began to call his own highlights.
"Isn't this awesome? I love this sport," Bowyer beamed. "I'm telling you, whoever designed this new car, we should kiss 'em. I mean, every weekend, it's creating drama."
After 400 plus an extra six overtime laps in a race not lacking for drama, the sixth generation of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race car passed its first test on the .75-mile track, receiving glowing reviews from the top three finishers in the Toyota Owners 400. Nine races in, the early feedback has been largely favorable, but not quite as emotive as Bowyer's giddy, unsolicited response.
"The teams, the manufacturers, you know, just so many good qualities that this car has done for our sport," said Bowyer, who finished .343 seconds behind race winner Kevin Harvick. "Manufacturer identity -- that's huge. These cars need to look like the cars that people are driving to the racetrack. I feel like we've come a long ways in that direction. That's first and foremost. And then look at the racing. I mean, we haven't seen racing like this in years, since I first started in this sport."
After numerous months of work and testing from NASCAR's research and development department, plus an unprecedented collaborative effort from the sport's three automakers, the Gen-6 car hit the track for its first official laps at this season's Daytona 500 with a new showroom-style exterior. There was no denying the car's distinctive and improved looks, but the question before the series' most prestigious race remained about how the model, which weighs 100 pounds less than its predecessor, would perform in a full 43-car field.
At the quarter pole of the season and after a stirring final 100 laps at Richmond, the early returns were decisively more positive.
"I think the car has done a great job," Logano said. "Like Clint said, they look awesome. I think all of them look great. They have put on a good race, so we don't really have anything to complain about. Obviously I think a lot comes with the lighter cars, all that. That makes them a little bit easier to drive, but lets us push a little bit harder, and I think that brings on the better race."
No one benefited more from how his car drove than Harvick, who stormed from seventh place to the win in just two laps. The path to his first Sprint Cup victory of the season was around the outside of leader and Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton, thanks to a power move on fresh tires on the final restart.
"I feel like I can drive my car in 10 miles deep, do what I have to do on the inside of other car, not worry about spinning out and wrecking," Harvick said. "I think there's still a few things here and there, whether it be the superspeedways that everybody wants to see how the racing is at Talladega next week, you know, compared to how it was at Daytona. There's still some unanswered questions, but I think all in all, it's been a huge success so far. So that's good."
The top three all came out on the right side of the drama at Richmond, but for Bowyer, simply having drama -- be it good or bad with the new Gen-6 car -- was what makes showing up for work worthwhile.
"When you can leave a racetrack and there's people in tears because they won and in tears because they got crashed, you know, that's what brings us to the racetrack, that kind of racing and determination and passion."
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