By admin | November 23, 2013
By Richard Allen
The 2013 Sprint Cup season began with NASCAR introducing a “new” car to the sport. The much reviled Car of Tomorrow was to be replaced by the fresher sixth generation racer, or the Gen6. According to those who run the sport, this car was to offer a look that would show real distinctions between the manufacturers and it was to create a better on-track product.
The CoT had been criticized from its earliest days in the Sprint Cup division for having no brand distinctions and for the poor quality of racing it created. The only way to distinguish one make from another was to look at the stickers applied to the car after its NASCAR-mandated body pieces were put in place. Also, the term “aero-tight” became more commonly used than to describe the racing than just about any other phrase.
The Gen6 was created for the purpose of fixing those issues. And so, the sanctioning rolled their new machine out for the 2013 season with a publicity barrage and much fanfare. And without question, the car did look better than its ‘one size fits all’ predecessor.
What grade would you give the Gen6 in its first season?—————————->
NASCAR was so proud of their new creation that secret edicts were sent out that it was not to be criticized, even slightly, as driver Denny Hamlin found out just two weeks into the 2013 season.
But the fact of the matter was that the Gen6 did not improve racing at all. Instead, criticism of the new car continued to mount as the season wore on. Passing became almost nonexistent during long green flag stretches of each race, especially on tracks most noted for the “aero-tight” conditions so often complained about by drivers and teams. The only time many races on the aero-sensitive 1.5- 2 mile ‘cookie cutter’ tracks saw any real action was in the first couple of laps after a restart or during pit stop exchanges.
The Gen6 often times proved to be a parade device rather than a race car.
In reality, the newer car was little more than the old CoT with a new body applied to the same inner skeleton. And it is that skeleton, or chassis, that makes for poor racing. With so many of the inner parts and pieces of the car mandated by or handed down from NASCAR, the teams are all essentially using the same equipment.
With so little room for variation or experimentation, the cars all run essentially the same speed when they get on the track. To a novice, that might sound ideal. After all, won’t the racing be closer if the cars are running the same speed?
In reality, however, that is not the case. At high speeds, which create greater aerodynamic sensitivity, the cars simply line up and follow one another while running at the same pace. No one is able to pass because of the “wall of air” generated between the cars at top speed. Thus, a high speed parade results.
Further, with so much of the car under such tight restrictions, the opportunity exists for the bigger and more heavily financed teams to gain an advantage. Organizations such as Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing are able to pay teams of engineers to glean those minute differences that provide advantages lesser financed teams would never be able to find.
Late in the 2013 season, even NASCAR chairman Brian France acknowledged that the racing needed to see some improvement, particularly on the so called ‘cookie cutter’ tracks.
“I think you’re going to see already good racing get elevated a notch or two if some of the things that we think are doable can happen,” France said in an interview posted on MRN.com by writer Dustin Long. ”We have a dedicated group working only on what is the best package we can come with, in particular, on the mile-and-a-halves that give the most drivers an opportunity to pass (and) to win.
“Candidly we’re evolving our approach to things. I use the words more science than art, more fact-based things as we go into testing. We’re marrying that with our institutional knowledge, what makes the cars easier to drive, easier to pass. That’s what NASCAR is all about.”
In the final evaluation of the Gen6’s first season, it failed to produce any real change aside from a fresh appearance. As a teacher by trade, I live in a world in which grades are assigned for accomplishment or lack thereof.
For 2013, I would give the Gen6 a grade of ‘D’, which is an improvement over the CoT’s lifelong grade of ‘F’. But the Gen6’s mark is based solely on its appearance. The racing hardly saw any improvement on the tracks in which aerodynamics matter most.
So, will France’s claim that the development of the car is an evolving process prove true, or will the Gen6 simply prove to be a all about the packaging with no real substance under the skin?
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