Gen-6 cars herald return to old-school NASCAR Opinion

Friday, Feb. 22, 2013

On the grass in the Fan Zone at Daytona International Speedway is a burnt orange 1969 Dodge Charger with a black interior, a 440-cubic inch, 375-horsepower engine and a wing on the rear that sticks almost two feet in the air.

“This to me is the most iconic car in racing,” says NASCAR commentator and former Cup driver Kyle Petty.

Approach the car. Your first inclination isn’t to open the door. Your first inclination is to kneel and bow your head. If you live a good life, always put others first and make a ton of money, the keys could be yours.

The new Gen-6 cars the Sprint Cup drivers will race this season aren’t as stunning as the Charger. But compared to the Car of Tomorrow they look marvelous. It’s as if the boxy one-size-fits-none COT cars in which they competed the last six seasons have been working out.

The Gen-6 cars are leaner and sleeker. Fords look like Fords, Chevrolets like Chevrolets and Toyotas like Toyotas. They look fast when they’re parked.

“I love the new cars,” says Richard Petty, who won more Cup races than anybody in NASCAR history, so many races that even his son Kyle calls him King. “Because they’re cars, right? They’re not NASCAR cars. They’re Fords and Chevrolets. And you can tell the difference in them.

“I like them because the fans can associate with them, OK? And when the fans associate with them the factories associate with them. And that helps us.”

The cars should be fun. Sunday’s Daytona 500 probably won’t be.

The first three major events at Daytona, last week’s Sprint Unlimited and Thursday’s Budweiser Duels, offered everything but passing. Fans bought tickets to watch the world’s most expensive parades.

“It’s hard to pass the leader,” says Kyle Busch, who won the second of Thursday’s Duels. “When you get out front, you can hold everyone off.”

“It doesn’t seem to be as easy to come from the back to the front as it has in the past,” says Tony Stewart.

Ryan Newman, 2008 Daytona 500 winner, Cup veteran and possessor of a degree in vehicle structure engineering from Purdue, says the new car “punches a little different hole” in the air. He says the Gen-6 car has less of the “teardrop” look favored in restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway. He says the body shape creates “different aero-actions.”

A less technical explanation that does not include the term aero-actions: Every restrictor plate race is the same. Nobody can run away, not even in a ’69 burnt orange Charger, so everybody hangs together. Avoid the wrecks and you, too, can win.

The last 20 minutes are colorful and compelling. The problem is the approximately nine hours that precede them.

Richard Petty says drivers at Daytona don’t race. They run.

And the King never lies.

“You run wide open and 14 cars pass you,” says Petty. “There’s nothing you can do about it. So the deal is miss everybody and be there at the end of the race. I don’t think it’s right. I always thought racin’ was when you caught somebody and passed them. But it doesn’t work that way here.”

Watch Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet accelerate onto the track Friday, nothing but a beautiful streak of blue. Newman’s Quicken Loans Chevrolet looks quick, Carl Edwards’ Fastenal Ford looks fast and Clint Bowyer’s 5-Hour Energy Toyota looks energetic.

The new Gen-6 cars should generate the old-school racing of which Petty speaks – starting March 3 at Phoenix International Raceway.

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