The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup series season began in earnest Thursday as 18 teams with 35 cars total hit the high banks of Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the season opening Daytona 500 on February 24.
The new Generation 6, or Gen 6 cars, took to the track early in the day spending the morning in single car runs as drivers and teams got used to newly redesigned machines.
“Everybody is super excited about this race car and what it brings to our sport and the identity that it brings back to the passenger cars you see on the roads,” said Clint Bowyer. “This is my first time I've been in it. They're certainly cool looking. [It’s great] to see everybody's cars down here and be back to racing.”
Bowyer added that the new cars really didn’t feel much different, at least in the morning during single car runs.
“Out there by yourself you're still the same chassis and same components underneath of it. Feel-wise all by yourself, you're not going to be able to tell nothing,” Bowyer said. “It's when you get the other cars out there, you get to feel the way they draft, the way the air moves around them, how you move down and get gains off of side drafting and things like that. Those are the things that are going to start showing up later on. Right now, it's just trying to make it as fast as possible and as far as the feel goes, right now, with single-car it's virtually the same."
Matt Kenseth, new to the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, led the morning session in his Toyota with a top speed of 192.757.
The afternoon session saw some drivers begin to draft. As they did so speeds went up. But drivers seemed tentative as they got used to the draft and the new cars.
"We just were not able to keep together for one solid lap,” Denny Hamlin said. “ I think it's just the way these bodies are with the aero platform and everything. It's just going to lend itself more to the pack racing. Like I said, it seems like the second car is getting just as much air thrown on the nose as what the front car is so it's harder to suck up to the front car, which in turn will make for better pack racing versus two-car tandem."
Hamlin led the afternoon charts with a speed of 195.712. Kenseth was right behind at 195.385 with the third JGR driver Kyle Busch in third at 195.329. Mark Martin and Jeff Burton rounded out the top five.
NASCAR officials seemed pleased with the first day of testing with the new cars.
“We have been working on this car for nearly two years and we have been at the track on and off for well over a year in different stages and forms and configurations of the car,” NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said. “Because of the depth of everybody, throughout our entire industry, we were able to take these things and put a long lead time in them and develop a better product.”
John Darby, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director, echoed the positive feelings about the new car, and was particularly impressed with the close competition during Thursday’s test.
“When you look at the enormity of the project … and basically putting three brand-new models of race cars out on a race track … and put speeds up that are within a tenth of a second of each other – it is an incredible, incredible effort,” Darby said. “I truly believe there is not another racing series in the world that could accomplish what these guys did since we left Homestead.”
Teams will test again on Friday. The test at Daytona wraps up Saturday; teams will move to Charlotte Motor Speedway next week for one final testing session.
Morning Test Speeds (pdf)>>>
Afternoon Test Speeds (pdf)>>>
BREAKING NEWS: Crash takes out many during NASCAR test at Daytona