Back in January during the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said officials would measure the success of the new Generation-6 car by examining lead changes, driver feedback and how the car races on various tracks.
It was a matter-of-fact statement but seemed like a fairly bold one at the time considering most of us hadn't seen the new vehicle in competition. But those in the know must have felt confident about the car, and, as it turns out, with good reason. So far the Gen-6 car is living up to its preseason billing, and its implementation is becoming a game-changing moment in the sport.
Now that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is coming off its first road course race of the season, fans and officials have gotten to see the vehicle perform on all the different styles of tracks that the series has to offer. And while most people who follow the sport on a weekly basis probably would agree there has been more drama this season, it's good to have the numbers to back it up.
Mike Forde, NASCAR's Senior Manager of Content Communications, shared some of the data he and his team have collected through the first part of the season. And as you will see, the numbers are strikingly in favor of the Gen-6 car.
Starting out with passing, we've seen records set or tied this season in races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (31 green-flag passes for the lead), Auto Club Speedway (41 green-flag passes for the lead), Charlotte Motor Speedway (35 passes for the lead for the Coca-Cola 600) and Dover International Raceway (25 passes for the lead). All four of those tracks are intermediate in size.
That's not to say the Gen-6 car hasn't had its moments on short tracks and superspeedways as well. Richmond International Raceway, a short track, saw one of the season's most exciting finishes when Kevin Harvick passed four cars in the final three laps to win.
Close finishes, in fact, have been a hallmark of the new car, with the margin of victory through 15 races (1.066 seconds) at its lowest point since 2002.
As for superspeedways, Talladega produced a 1-2 finish by David Ragan and David Gilliland of Front Row Motorsports, an example of the parity that the Gen-6 car has helped to create. Another smaller team, Furniture Row Racing, has already led more laps than ever. An element of unpredictability has reigned, as well, such as Martin Truex Jr. snapping his 218-winless streak on the road course at Sonoma.
"It has been a little equalizer, absolutely, because it forced teams like us that generally don't go through our complete inventory over the off-season, it forces us to really go through," Ragan said after Talladega.
There are other impressive numbers, too, including a higher percentage of cars (81.7 percent) finishing races compared with last year (76.1), and more cars (49.2 percent to 39.4 percent last year) finishing on the lead lap, too. It is all adding up to better racing, and the numbers are helping to tell that story.
Still, some of us prefer the human element, and Clint Bowyer provided us with one of the more memorable driver quotes about the Gen-6 car after the Richmond race.
"Whoever designed this new car, we should kiss 'em every weekend," Bowyer said. "It's (Gen-6) creating drama. We haven't seen racing like this in years, since I first started in this sport (in 2004). When you can leave a race track and there's people in tears because they won, and in tears because they got crashed, that's what brings us to the race track, that kind of racing and determination and passion."
Others have given positive reviews, too, marveling at the grip and speed that the car has shown, especially in the corners. Said Carl Edwards to SCNow.com in May at Darlington, "I glanced down and saw 193 (mph) headed into Turn 3 before I had to turn my attention back to the track. This car is fast."
Your next chance to see Edwards go fast will be this weekend at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, TNT) driving the No. 99 UPS Ford. And whether or not he wins he'll still be a game-changer simply by driving the Gen-6 car.
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