It almost looked and felt like someone turned the clock back to 1997. I kept expecting to see Terry Labonte in the Kellogs Chevrolet instead of the FAS Lane Ford Fusion, Dale Jarrett in the #88 Robert Yates Ford, and the Mr. Goodwrench Chevrolet streaking around the historic 2.5 mile wonder of the world that is Daytona International Speedway. I had awakened from a nightmare of four wide packs and pairs of cars trying to perform the swap maneuver in the tri-oval. The COT car had disappeared.
The COT car was designed in wake of the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500, and built for one major reason, safety. In that category, it has performed admirably, and should be remembered for that aspect.
The New Gen 6 car made it’s debut Saturday Night at The Sprint Unlimited, and was ushered in by 19 drivers who either sat on a poll during the 2012 season, or were past champions. If NASCAR wanted to create excitement, they hit a home run.
I began monitoring the social networks early Saturday morning, and on Twitter, people were waking up, and planning their day around this race. I haven’t seen this much excitement in quite a few years. I left my laptop for a brief time during the day, and when I came back, I had missed over 400 tweets. As I reviewed them, I found that 95% of them were NASCAR related. Fans were in a frenzy that would rival the Super Bowl.
During the first segment of the race, I liked what I saw from the new car. It drafts well, it’s racy, and puts the control of the race back in the drivers hands. Don’t get me wrong, at Daytona you still need help to win this race. Nothing has changed in that respect, the laws of physics still demand that you must run in a group to win. After the wreck that took out a third of the field, the racing still remained good.
Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth were all hooked up, had very strong cars, and came to race. I think Matt Kenseth had the best car on the track, but couldn’t find anyone with a strong enough car to help him out. With his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin getting wrecked out in the segment one mishap, Matt couldn’t find drafting help. His former Roush teammate, Greg Biffle tried to stay with him but, either his Ford Fusion was not fast enough to help, or we had a situation where a Ford was not going to help a Toyota. The Chevrolet tandem of Kevin Harvick, and Tony Stewart was just too strong in the end.
There was a concern coming into this event that it would take the drivers a while to adapt to the new car. These drivers have driven everything from Go Karts and Super Late Models to Indy Cars on every type of surface that you can think of, so they adapt more quickly than you would expect.
Although I am excited, and looking forward to the remainder of the events at Daytona, I am anxious to see how this car will perform at the 1.5 mile D-Oval tracks. You can’t base how the new cars will perform week to week during the season by watching them on a restrictor plate track. Racing at Daytona and Talladega is always breathtaking but unique. The Gen 6 success will be determined at the other tracks on the schedule where the racing was really boring. I am especially anxious to see how they will perform at Darlington. I can’t wait to see which one earns it’s first Darlington stripe.
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