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Thursday, February 21, 2013
So far, not so good

By Ed Hinton
ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Be careful what you wish for, NASCAR fans.

OK, so we admit, it's only been three races. But you got what you demanded. And so far, what you've seen can't be what you hoped for.

For the record, Kevin Harvick won the first ride-around of the Duel Dogs and Kyle Busch the second. The biggest moment Thursday was when Jeff Gordon got a pit-road speeding penalty in Promenade II and dropped back, opening the way for at least a little scrambling. Otherwise, Gordon would have cakewalked start to finish.

So what do you want to do next? Bring back the Car of Tomorrow? Reminisce about how great tandem drafting was?

Those were the days, weren't they?

Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch was much more diplomatic about his thoughts on the new "Gen 6" car than he was seven years ago about the Car of Tomorrow.

You love nothing more than criticizing NASCAR, but this time you've got to criticize yourselves. NASCAR made these changes at your behest.

Granted, drivers were largely riding around Thursday, trying not to tear up their cars in a pair of traditional but antiquated races going into Sunday's Daytona 500.

"The choice was made by a bunch of us to run around in circles and log laps," said Michael Waltrip, who raced his way into the 500 field on Thursday. But the whole appeal of the Duels, traditionally, has been the wildness created by those forced to race their way in. If Waltrip could cakewalk this thing, what does that tell you?

Granted, we still have yet to see Gen 6 in a full contingent of 43 cars. Further granted, this is a restrictor-plate track, and in a week these cars will begin the steady NASCAR diet of unrestricted tracks.

But right now, it doesn't look good. And NASCAR's showcase race is not the best place to flop.

You wanted Gen 6 to look like your street car. It does. And that's about how it runs at Daytona.

Come to think of it, maybe your street car runs better. You tell me: When you run up behind another car on the interstate, does your car hit a wall of air and then recoil as if it had been punched in the nose with a boxing glove?

"They really stall easy," said Greg Biffle, after finishing second to Harvick in the first 150-mile dog. "They won't suck up to the guy in front of you."

Call it the anti-draft -- a departure from half a century of tactics here. Since Junior Johnson figured out the draft here in 1960, the idea was to pull up behind another car, get an aerodynamic tow from the semi-vacuum, and then pull out and let the wash of air from the first car catapult you past him.

Now, "You get a run on somebody, you run up close to their rear bumper, it just stops," Biffle said.

Biffle was most qualified to speak, having finished second to Harvick twice in a row this week -- Saturday night in the Sprint Unlimited, and then again Thursday.

Harvick was, of course, happy with status quo, his two wins this week having made him the favorite for Sunday's Daytona 500.

"It's just like it was 10 years ago," he said with a contented shrug. "It's the same way we used to race with the old-style cars." That is, the ones before the CoT.

Busch, you'll recall, won the first CoT race -- at Bristol, Tenn., in 2007 -- and emerged from his car in victory lane to say, "I can't stand to drive them. They suck."

Might he be as candid about Gen 6?

Busch spewed diplomacy: "We're at a restrictor-plate track where a lot of different circumstances come into play than at Bristol, Loudon, California or anywhere else," he said.

Then the punch line: "I'm also seven years older. So I'm wiser in choosing my words. So far, I think things are good."

But the tendency, he had to admit, is that the leader "stays out front. I hate to say that, but these cars so far have shown it's a little bit harder to pass the leader … "

A "little bit?" Carefully chosen words indeed.

Later, confronted again with the banality of the almost-constant single-file racing Thursday, Busch said, "Maybe we're racing single-file because we're scared to run side by side."

Could be, considering that pulling out to pass gets an aerodynamic punch in the nose even worse than pulling up behind.

Busch opined that the Gen 6's windshield sits flatter against the wind and therefore dumps more air, faster, onto a neighboring car -- either stalling the neighbor or sending it sideways.

So far, let's expand the old "be careful what you wish for" to this:

Be careful what you scream and gripe about to NASCAR, and demand.