With the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season just past the halfway point, NASCAR’s decision to introduce the radically redesigned Generation 6 cars seems to be a hit with the automakers.
On-track results aren’t drastically different so far this year for the Gen-6 cars vs. the old — and much-reviled — Gen-5 cars. Through the first 20 Sprint Cup races of 2013, there has been an average of nine leaders and 16.8 lead changes per race, which tracks close to last year’s numbers of 9.4 leaders and 18.4 lead changes during the same 20 races.
But if the statistics remain more or less the same, the mindset isn’t. For one thing, they are more fun for the drivers to race.
“This car has been good at pretty much 98 percent of the racetracks that we’ve gone to see the race, and it seems like the strategy and things that come with this car, for whatever reason, really mixes things up at the ends of these races,” said Kevin Harvick, a two-time winner so far this year.
And the automakers clearly are pleased to have race cars that bear a much closer appearance to the cars they actually sell.
David Wilson, the acting president and general manager of TRD, U.S.A., Toyota’s racing arm, expected the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota Camry to look better than the old car. What he wasn’t expecting is the boost the car has received internally.
“As much pressure as the sport put on (the Gen-6) and we all put on it, I would have to say that halfway through the season, we’re delighted,” said Wilson. “We’re getting a tremendous lift, we believe. … We hear it most from our own team members and associates, how much they just love the look of the car. You can identify the Camry now without just looking at (and saying), ‘Well, I know the M&M’s car is a Camry.’ So, yeah, we’re enjoying it. We think it’s been a home run.”
His counterparts at Ford and Chevrolet agree.
“If you look at it from a manufacturer’s point of view, I give the Gen-6 high marks because we now have product relevancy in the sport,” said Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing.
Chevrolet, meanwhile, has a somewhat unique predicament. The good news for Chevrolet execs is that they are leading the highly prestigious NASCAR manufacturers’ championship with 143 points to 131 for Toyota and 99 for Ford.
The bad news is that the car Chevrolet teams race, the 2014 Chevy SS, won’t actually go on sale until the fourth quarter of this year, making it complicated to judge exactly what kind of impact the new race car is having on fans. Even if they win on Sunday, right now, Chevrolet doesn’t have any SS sedans to sell on Monday.
“The difference is — the hard part is — we still don’t have the cars in the showrooms,” said Pat Suhy, NASCAR program manager for General Motors. “I think everyone’s very excited about it. I think we’ve shown people the car enough. … It’s going to help them make the connection between the fact that the production car and the race car look very much the same. We did a great job of showing it and talking about it, but it’s hard to keep front and center with them until the cars are out and about.”
On track, though, Suhy is stoked about how quickly the Chevy teams have been able to get the SS performing at a high level.
“I think the teams have learned it does respond differently to different things,” said Suhy. “Over time, they’ve built up a library of best practices of how you prepare ‘em, how you treat the underbodies, and how it responds to changes. So now they’ve got as strong an arsenal of aero tools at their disposal as they had with the Gen-5 car. And if you think about it, they developed the Gen-5 car for six years. To be where we’re at at this time, and to have the tunability that they have and the adjustability, I think we’re in great shape. I think everything bodes well for the future.”
That said, Allison wants to see his Ford teams start to rally and find Victory Lane more often. Three victories in the first 20 races of the season are not enough to satisfy Ford’s top gun in motorsports.
“This is car racing,” said Allison. “This is a sport. You’ve got to win. The Gen-6 platform was available to all three manufacturers, and the charge is on us to go out there and perform. And having a fair share — more than a fair share — of opportunities to win the races is what a manufacturer’s support at the factory level is all about. I’d like to see that progress in Cup. And I’ll tell you, I believe we have the teams to make that happen. I do. We have the lineup to make it happen.”