DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Twelve of 35 cars went home crashed following three days of testing. Drivers said NASCAR’s new generation race car was difficult to drive; crews said the new design and a lack of parts will have everyone scrambling to be ready in time for next month’s Daytona 500.
But nobody was complaining at the Daytona International Speedway.
The new cars were re-designed to highlight manufacturer identity. At the same time the sanctioning body made other rules that will put success back in the hands of the drivers.
The learning curve was hard and fast.
“The cars drive pretty well,” Jeff Gordon said. “You can’t push, which I think is a good thing. The bad thing is, you can still get to the guys bumper, but the cars just don’t line up very well. You really just shouldn’t even be doing it. Unfortunately, that is kind of that last little bit of momentum that you need to sometimes make the pass or make your lane move. So, it’s something that is going to have to be dealt with very carefully.”
That lesson was learned quickly during Friday’s afternoon session. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tapped Marcus Ambrose in the front of an 18-car pack, and that turned Ambrose into the wall. Although a total of 12 cars were involved, nobody was blaming NASCAR’s sixth generation design.
“It was cool being able to back up off the leader and get runs and take the lead and do things like you used to do,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “It was a little bit more strategy involved than just holding it wide open and hitting the guy in front of you as hard as you could, so I thought it was cool. It was a lot of fun and I think it’s going to put on a great show when we come back down here.”
The new cars have a lot more downforce on the front bumper, but it came at the expense of the trunk area. Teams frantically worked to find more mechanical traction for the back tires while drivers concentrated on working in traffic. One thing everyone figured out was the days of one car pushing the other are gone.
The front and rear bumpers have slight curves, so it’s difficult for cars to line up squarely. And when a lead car gets a push, it tends to lift the rear tires off the ground.
Since nobody can push, drivers are happy the two-car tandems have been eliminated.
“Yeah, I think the racing will be better because it doesn’t look like we will be able to tandem,” Earnhardt said. “The cars are down 50 percent on downforce in the back. They are real tail happy. A lot of guys are really having a lot of snaps and moments out there on the race track where they are getting loose. With that in mind you are definitely not going to be pushing anybody through the corner.”
NASCAR is responsible for doling out rear trunk decks. Every team got one a week ago and more are scheduled to be released each Friday during the season. For now, everyone – especially those who crashed Friday – is desperate to get enough parts and pieces. But there was enough information gathered in three days to keep everyone busy for a while.
“It’s just like anything else, there’s going to be an adapting period and having to get used to what the cars feel like and how they drive and what not,” Kyle Busch said. “I’m good with it.”
The remaining teams went back to single-car runs following Friday’s big crash. Matt Kenseth posted the quickest lap during Saturday’s morning session at 192.757 mph, while Trevor Bayne was second at 193.686.
Busch was quickest Saturday afternoon at 194.578 mph.
Most teams will take what they’ve learned during the test and build new cars for the Feb. 24 Daytona 500. Drivers will return with a new understanding and different strategy.
And just about everyone expects better racing.
“This is going to be a heck of a race,” Carl Edwards said. “I like that the cars were sliding around and hard to drive. It will make it a fun race.”