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2013 Sprint Cup Series: Gen-6 Car Testing

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Taylor covers NASCAR for RotoWire. He is a three-time winner of the FSWA's Racing Writer of the Year award. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

The one variable that will affect driver performance in the upcoming season more than anything is NASCAR's new Gen-6 car. The 2013 model stock car incorporates many design changes, including enough body and aerodynamic changes to prove to be a real wild card for this season. NASCAR conducted two tests during mid-January to allow teams to get a lot of track time in with the new car and work out some of these dynamics in the process. The sanctioning body chose the super speedway of Daytona and the intermediate oval of Charlotte to conduct their tests. These tracks are medium-to-large in size and produce high speeds, aero-handling conditions and represent a large segment of the tracks on the Sprint Cup Series circuit.

Before we dive into the numbers, let's look at what is new about the Gen-6 car and what has been changed over the previous generation car. NASCAR wanted to move the Sprint Cup car closer to what's seen in the street car version so that more brand identity could be seen on the track. However, the changes don't stop there and there are some subtle changes that will affect performance.

1. Distinct body lines that match street vehicles
2. The "greenhouse" area is the same on every car
3. Longer nose and shorter tail to mimic street cars
4. Carbon fiber hood and deck lid
5. New decals on windshield and roof
6. The driver's last name featured on the windshield

The first test was conducted on the 2.5-mile super speedway at Daytona. The four days of tests allowed teams to run single-car laps and eventually run in the multi-car packs drafting one another.

DAYTONA DAY 3 TESTING - Single Car Runs

DRIVERTEAMMANUFACTURERBEST TIME (sec)BEST SPEED (mph)
1. Matt Kenseth (20)Joe GibbsToyota46.377194.062
2. Trevor Bayne (21) Wood Bros.Ford46.467193.686
3. Danica Patrick (10) Stewart HaasChevy46.476193.648
4. Paul Menard (27)ChildressChevy46.519193.469
5. Tony Stewart (14)Stewart HaasChevy46.587193.187
6. Austin Dillon (33) ChildressChevy46.613193.079
7. Jeff Burton (31)ChildressChevy46.673192.831
8. Greg Biffle (16)RoushFord46.696192.736
9. Kyle Busch (18)Joe GibbsToyota46.699192.724
10. Juan P. Montoya (42)GanassiChevy46.717192.649
11. Ryan Newman (39)Stewart HaasChevy46.717192.649
12. Kurt Busch (78)Furniture RowChevy46.740192.555
13. Kevin Harvick (29)ChildressChevy46.868192.029
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr (88)HendrickChevy46.880191.980
15. Jimmie Johnson (48)HendrickChevy46.917191.828
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr (17)RoushFord46.976191.587
17. Carl Edwards (99)RoushFord46.978191.579
18. Josh Wise (38)Front RowFord47.265190.416
19. Casey Mears (13)GermainFord47.307190.247
20. Bobby Labonte (47)JTGToyota47.670188.798

We chose to examine day 3 of testing because the four day test allowed drivers to get their feet wet with the new car and get a comfort level before attempting any drafting or other race type conditions. As you can see in the numbers above we seem to have a lot of parity in speed among manufacturers and teams in the single car runs. We have to be cautious in reading too much into these figures since Daytona does not resemble single car runs on race day. Drafting speeds are much more important. But as a base line for performance it shows the cars have pretty balanced horsepower and aerodynamics and this should produce some evenly distributed qualifying results and starting grids at least on the super speedways.

The team and driver observations that stand out in the single car runs is that those drivers who have recently dominated on the restrictor-plate race tracks are taking to the new Gen-6 car on these ovals right away. 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne had a great four days of testing at Daytona and the Wood Brothers team that is renowned for their super speedway cars have definitely hit the nail on the head. Drivers who have also had strong super speedway resumes in recent seasons like Tony Stewart, 2012 Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton all seemed to really like the new car and the results showed in these tests.

DAYTONA DAY 3 TESTING - Drafting

DRIVERTEAMMANUFACTURERBEST TIME (sec)BEST SPEED (mph)
1. Trevor Bayne (21) Wood Bros.Ford45.079199.650
2. Joey Logano (22)PenskeFord45.156199.309
3. Martin Truex Jr (56)WaltripToyota45.178199.212
4. Mark Martin (55)WaltripToyota45.184199.186
5. Carl Edwards (99) RoushFord45.188199.168
6. Aric Almirola (43)PettyFord45.207199.084
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr (88)HendrickChevy45.226199.001
8. Greg Biffle (16)RoushFord45.236198.957
9. Kyle Busch (18)Joe GibbsToyota45.236198.957
10. Casey Mears (13)GermainFord45.239198.943
11. Brad Keselowski (2)PenskeFord45.243198.926
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr (17)RoushFord45.299198.680
13. Marcos Ambrose (9)PettyFord45.306198.649
14. Clint Bowyer (15)WaltripToyota45.326198.562
15. Kasey Kahne (5)HendrickChevy45.336198.518
16. Kurt Busch (78)Furniture RowChevy45.347198.470
17. Jamie McMurray (1)GanassiChevy45.358198.421
18. Paul Menard (27)ChildressChevy45.372198.360
19. Tony Stewart (14)Stewart HaasChevy45.605197.347
20. Austin Dillon (33)ChildressChevy45.606197.342

With drivers seeking to learn more about how the new Gen-6 car reacts in the draft. The one trend that came to the forefront in this session is that the horsepower that Ford displayed on the super speedways in 2012 is still present in 2013. Five of the top eight speeds were turned by Ford drivers and from various stables, so it isn't just a Roush Fenway Racing edge. Roush enjoyed a lot of success on the larger ovals last season and the move to the new stock car sets up well for this camp. It looks as though Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could all be heavy hitters on these ovals. The Penske Racing (new to Ford) and Petty teams weren't far behind. Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose had very strong tests for the Petty stable and reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski and newcomer Joey Logano proved to be just as formidable in their new Penske Fords. The other manufacturer to impress was Toyota. The teams of Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing also looked very fast in drafting conditions. This bodes well for Gibbs' star-studded addition, Matt Kenseth. He was hands down the best-performing super speedway driver of 2012 and it looks like that success is set up to continue into the new season. The MWR teams of Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr. appear to be carrying their excellence of last season into the new year as well. All three teams tested extremely well in the draft. While on the downside of these results it looks like the Chevrolets, specifically the ones in the Hendrick Motorsports camp, have a lot of catch up to do. This is not surprising since this stable hasn't really been top notch on the restrictor-plate tracks for a few years now.

The second test of the new Gen-6 car was conducted on the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Charlotte. The tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway were scheduled to take place over two days, but the event had to be shortened to one day due to inclement weather. Sadly, the numbers were cut short due to this but the driver received one long day to squeeze in as many laps as possible.

CHARLOTTE TESTING

DRIVERTEAMMANUFACTURERBEST TIME (sec)BEST SPEED (mph)
1. Aric Almirola (43) PettyFord27.832194.021
2. Carl Edwards (99)RoushFord27.882193.673
3. Casey Mears (13)GermainFord27.924193.382
4. Marcos Ambrose (9)PettyFord27.938193.285
5. Jimmie Johnson (48)HendrickChevy28.009192.795
6. Mark Martin (55)WaltripToyota28.032192.637
7. Greg Biffle (16)RoushFord28.036192.610
8. Martin Truex Jr (56)WaltripToyota28.063192.424
9. Clint Bowyer (15)WaltripToyota28.070192.376
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr (17)RoushFord28.075192.342
11. Juan P. Montoya (42)GanassiChevy28.092192.226
12. Kasey Kahne (5)HendrickChevy28.095192.205
13. Matt Kenseth (20)Joe GibbsToyota28.104192.143
14. Kevin Harvick (29)ChildressChevy28.108192.116
15. Joey Logano (22)PenskeFord28.123192.014
16. Tony Stewart (14)Stewart HaasChevy28.134191.939
17. Kyle Busch (18)Joe GibbsToyota28.158191.775
18. Kurt Busch (78)Furniture RowChevy28.172191.680
19. Dale Earnhardt Jr (88)HendrickChevy28.194191.530
20. Ryan Newman (39)Stewart HaasChevy28.196191.517

Once again the drivers of Ford flexed their muscles on this intermediate oval. Speeds were high and the Roush Fenway drivers along with the Petty drivers shone. Almirola was the only driver to top the 194 mph mark. For the first time in a long time Carl Edwards showed the speed we remember seeing in the No. 99 team a couple seasons ago. The back-flipping bandit is an intermediate oval ace and it looks like he could return to that prominence again in 2013. Toyota once again checked in strong, especially with the three teams of Michael Waltrip Racing. Mark Martin led the way for this Toyota camp in the No. 55. He was closely followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer. All three drivers were strong on these cookie cutter ovals in 2012 and itís setting up like they will be again in the upcoming season. Chevrolet didnít seem to be as handicapped on the oval at Charlotte as they were at Daytona and this was to be expected. The Hendrick Motorsports teams led the way for Chevy with Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne looking particularly strong. The 1.5-mile tracks are very handling-sensitive so the Hendrick teams will benefit since they have the brightest and most respected crew chiefs in the sport. You can bet Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team carried a binder full of notes away from this testing session.

Since intermediate ovals make up a much larger part of the Sprint Cup Series schedule than any other oval type, we need to place more emphasis on these Charlotte numbers. It looks as though Ford could have an edge here and likely on the larger ovals as well. This will be a huge advantage to drivers from Roush, Penske and Petty. Chevrolet will be playing catch up, at least for a time, and that edge could put a majority of the season in the Ford driverís camp. Toyota looks well balanced between both tests, and we expect the new addition of Matt Kenseth to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver lineup to be a strong move. Both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch will add to the testing and practice feedback loop, so Gibbsí Toyota teams will be in good shape this season. Probably the biggest question mark after these tests is the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets. They didnít have a good season in 2012 and didnít show particularly strong in the Gen-6 car tests. This is something to keep in the back of your mind as you prepare for your fantasy drafts. It will be a long season of adjustments to the Gen-6 car and at least a few teams will have things figured out very quickly.
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