DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. 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 isnt 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 arent as stunning as the Charger. But compared to the Car of Tomorrow they look marvelous. Its 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 theyre 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 theyre cars, right? Theyre not NASCAR cars. Theyre 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. Sundays Daytona 500 probably wont be.
The first three major events at Daytona, last weeks Sprint Unlimited and Thursdays Budweiser Duels, offered everything but passing. Fans bought tickets to watch the worlds most expensive parades.
Its hard to pass the leader, says Kyle Busch, who won the second of Thursdays Duels. When you get out front, you can hold everyone off.
It doesnt 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 dont race. They run.
And the King never lies.
You run wide open and 14 cars pass you, says Petty. Theres nothing you can do about it. So the deal is miss everybody and be there at the end of the race. I dont think its right. I always thought racin was when you caught somebody and passed them. But it doesnt work that way here.
Watch Jimmie Johnsons Chevrolet accelerate onto the track Friday, nothing but a beautiful streak of blue. Newmans Quicken Loans Chevrolet looks quick, Carl Edwards Fastenal Ford looks fast and Clint Bowyers 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.