Ultimately, NASCAR's Gen 6 cars can’t be judged until a few races have been held on the intermediate tracks, but the G6 debut has been underwhelming thus far at Daytona International Speedway.
Sunday is the 55th running of the Daytona 500, and all indicators are that it will be among the most viewed Great American Races ever broadcast. There’s a good looking girl starting first, while her boyfriend starts in the middle of the field, there are new sleeker cars (notice the word “sleeker”) and there are enough driving stars in the field to keep everyone interested.
So when millions tune in Sunday, what kind of race will they see?
Judging by the Sprint Unlimited (formerly Busch Clash/Budweiser Shootout) and the Budweiser Duels (formerly Twin 125s), there will be a lot of single-file racing with occasional gaffes in the pits. How compelling people find this is up to the consumer, but after all the time and money spent on developing the Generation 6 Sprint Cup Series car, with the expressed goal of better racing, NASCAR must feel like Speedweeks delivered a swift kick to the groin.
Ultimately, the Gen 6 cars can’t be judged until a few races have been held on the intermediate tracks, but the G6 debut has been underwhelming thus far at Daytona International Speedway.
Ever since NASCAR issued restrictor plates to starve the engines of air, slowing the cars down enough to keep them inside the catch fences, pack racing has been the unintended consequence. No one could have imagined how closely the cars would race, and after seeing the close finishes and spectacle of it all, no one was about to change a thing.
The cars, however, kept evolving.
With each new iteration, nose piece or spoiler/wing height, the pack racing changed -- sometimes producing mesmerizing events, other times inducing long periods of sleep among viewers. Since the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow in 2007, the pack racing hasn’t lived up to the early years of restrictor plates, and hit a low point in 2011 when tandem racing was accidentally created. Groups of two cars, with in-car communication between drivers, was met by not-so-civil criticism, forcing NASCAR to address it.
It improved marginally in 2012 and so far this season has failed to capture the imagination of anyone.
Truth be told, and in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t like pack racing -- and by “don’t like” I really mean “loathe with an intensity hotter than the pits of Hell”. The restrictor plates turned one of the most prestigious races in the world into a giant slot-car race where any schmoe in the field can conceivably win -- you’re welcome, Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray and Ward Burton. That’s without mentioning the “Big Ones” -- crashes which typically eliminate half the field. It used to happen in the middle of the races, now at least the drivers wait until the end to attempt maneuvers that spit in the face of physics.
My detest for pack racing isn’t going to spur NASCAR to eliminate the plates because A) I’m in a minority so small it couldn’t fill the average 7-11’s beverage aisle and B) letting modern unrestricted stock cars loose around Daytona’s 2.5-mile high-banked layout would be potentially more dangerous than pack racing.
The only way for NASCAR to return to a massive congregation of steel and flesh flying around Daytona and Talladega, resulting in lead changes every lap and inevitable pileup, is to create a car designed specifically for those environments. NASCAR can work on the G6 cars for the rest of the 32 races on the schedule, but develop plate-racing cars that will give the fans, press and executives what they all seem to want, without coming out and saying it. What’s become obvious, six years later, is the current configuration just isn’t living up to people’s expectations.
Just sayin’: Lindy Ruff, released as coach of the Buffalo Sabres (they’re a hockey team) after nearly 15 years, is going to make some National Hockey League team very good very soon – as long as the general manager gives him something to work with. ... I hope A.J. Allmendinger gets funding to run a third car for Roger Penske’s IndyCar team, he’s too good to be on the sideline. ... When you awaken Monday, rejoice for award season will officially be over.
Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @TheLeaderGill.