Saturday night the NASCAR season unofficially kicked off. Nineteen drivers ran in the Sprint Unlimited as the new Generation Six car made its debut under the lights.
Many people who watched the race came away with mixed reviews. Fans were unsure of the racing they saw on the race track. The new cars look amazing, that is a given. But what about the thing that really matters, racing?
Going into the Sprint Unlimited, everybody was expecting a lot of action and a wild shootout during the final segment of the race. The event was rather uneventful. Other than a crash that took out a third of the 19 can field, there wasn’t a much action. In fact, drivers rode around in single file during the last ten laps until the white flag few in the air.
Kevin Harvick was able to block runs by Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle on the back stretch during the last lap. It was his race to win from there. Harvick took the checkered flag and brought Chevrolet its first win with the Generation Six car.
Looking back, there could have been multiple reasons behind a rather uneventful Sprint Unlimited. A few reasons may be that the drivers were to unsure of how the Generation Six car would act in racing conditions making people less hesitant, they were still learning the draft, they were afraid to wreck race cars as teams find themselves short on parts for new cars or could it have been another reason all together? Who knows.
But one take away, pack drafting is back and teams are still trying to get a grasp on it. Side drafting seem to play a larger role with the Generation Six car. Drivers were able to gain a lot of momentum side drafting off other cars when attempting to pass. Although the passing car needed a second car’s draft to hold on to position.
Also, the following car in a draft could fall behind the pack more easily than in the past. The new Generation Six car has a smaller spoiler, therefore air hits the front bumper much faster.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said it best when asked during post race interviews, “With this spoiler on the back, it’s really easy to lose the draft because air gets to your nose pretty quick, and the distance of the draft isn’t as far back as it used to be off the car in front of you. So you can lose it pretty quickly. You have to be real careful.”
Drafting with the new Gen6 car is a learning process to say the least.
Things will be more intense with over 20 more cars in the Daytona 500 field. The smaller spoilers, different front and rear bumpers and the way the cars react aerodynamically has eliminated tandem racing, as seen the last couple years. And for some, they have to relearn pack racing all over again while younger drivers have to learn it for the first time.
Drivers will gain practice time under racing conditions during the Budweiser Duels on Thursday. It will be more beneficial for many drivers who have teammates. Drivers and crews will take as much information as they can get from fellow drivers and teams as they prepare for the Daytona 500.
There is no question, there is still a lot to learn about the Generation Six cars. The Sprint Unlimited was an example. And teams will have one more crack at it Thursday before they race with points on the line. The Budweiser Duels will be a big learning process for everybody and after Thursday, maybe we will have a clearer answer of what we can expect Sunday.
The Budweiser Duels will be Thursday at 2pm ET on SPEED.