Commentary

Gen-6 car passes first Daytona test

Updated: February 17, 2013, 12:42 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- This new Gen-6 Sprint Cup car apparently is a handful in the draft at Daytona International Speedway.

And that apparently is a good thing.

As drivers noticed in Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited won by Kevin Harvick, handling can be an issue. As the temperatures warm up for Thursday's qualifying races and next Sunday's Daytona 500, they agreed that will become more of an issue.

Why is this good? Because it puts control back in the hands of the drivers. Because you likely won't see a no-name driver push or be pushed to the front in a two-car tandem because the hated tandems appear to be a thing of the past for more than a straightaway.

Because it increases the intensity meter, which increases the likelihood of a wreck if a driver doesn't use his head.

[+] EnlargeSprint Unlimited
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesWe won't know exactly how the Gen-6 car will handle in race conditions until a full field of 43 takes to the track for the Feb. 24 Daytona 500.

"If it is sunny for the 500, this is going to be one hell of a race,'' third-place finisher Joey Logano said. "It is going to be sliding around and going to be very tough, and that is what we like."

Aric Almirola, who finished sixth, agreed.

"It'll be crazy,'' he said. "Absolutely. One hundred percent. What a wild race that will be. The cars are a handful in the draft. It will be fun, though.''

So, apparently, a handful is good.

So, apparently, the Gen-6 gets a good grade for its first real test.

"You as a driver have more responsibility now about how you are going to drive out there because the cars are going to move around a little bit more,'' said Jeff Gordon, who was involved in a seven-car wreck early in the first segment.

"They are going to get turned around a lot easier, so you can't be running into each other. You can't be turning across guys. You have to utilize that handling to your advantage after a longer run. I like that part of it.''

In many ways, this was a return to the old style of plate racing in which you had two long lanes shifting back and forth for position. But we won't know exactly how cars will react until there are more on the track.

Before the first wreck, there consistently were two lanes of cars. But with only 12 of the original 19 on the track at the end, once the top six or so got in a line on the top lane, there weren't enough to form another on the bottom and make a charge.

Matt Kenseth had one of the fastest cars, but once he was shuffled to the back he never found multiple partners willing to commit with him low.

"That is the way it used to be, and I think everybody is OK with that,'' Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished eighth, said. "The drafting and the way you work the draft -- everybody is still kind of learning that. I learned a lot tonight, but there is tons to learn.''

That was the prevailing lesson on this chilly night.

"Still a lot to be learned,'' said Harvick, who used the side draft and blocks to hold off Greg Biffle at the end. "When you put 43 cars out there, the bottom lane isn't going to have three or four cars, and things will be able to shift and move easier.''

And if temperatures are in the low 80s for the 500 as predicted, things could get crazy.

"That'll change the ballgame a lot,'' Harvick said. "It's going to be a pack, absolutely. If you turn on a 2000 [race], before we went to the wicker, it's going to very similar. It's going to be much more difficult and a lot more advancing of positions when you have so many cars out there.''

In other words, there's still a lot we don't know.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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