I would be hard-pressed to remember a season that was anticipated like 2013 has been. There were so many unknowns about the new car going into Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited. Did we get all the answers? We absolutely did not.
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But I have to say, I liked what I saw.
Now, I know we didn’t really get to see what a pack of 43 drivers racing these cars will be like next Sunday in the Daytona 500 (coverage begins Noon ET on FOX) — especially not after we lost seven of 19 cars early in the race because of a crash — but even with the limited number of cars, there’s plenty to analyze. I still maintain we saw an awfully good race.
I really liked what I saw when folks were going two-wide and three-wide. It’s now more of a science than ever before. No longer can you simply ride around there pushing the guy ahead of you until your engine gets too hot. Now, you really have to figure out where you want to be on the track and with whom.
Saturday night also marked the return of the side-draft, which is something we haven’t seen in a little while. Tony Stewart, for one, made side-drafting work to his favor. Expect to see a few more drivers try that during the Budweiser Duel qualifying races Thursday and then in the 500 come Sunday.
There at the end, I would have like to have seen Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth get hooked up together sooner. Had they done that, I think they may have been able to race eventual race winner Kevin Harvick back to the checkered flag. But that’s OK — Saturday night was about trying to take the checkered flag, but it was also about learning what these cars can do. If they are in a similar position, don’t expect either Logano or Kenseth (or any driver who watches the replay) to wait too long to make their final move.
Speaking of race winner Harvick — we learned something else. For all those people that said “Happy” was going to enjoy a lame-duck season this year before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, well he sure put that to rest. Let’s face it, both Harvick and his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team are professionals. All they care about right now is winning. They will worry about the future later.
Because of that approach, Harvick will go down in NASCAR history as the very first winner of the newly formatted Sprint Unlimited. Obviously in addition to that, he can lay claim to being the very first winner in this new Gen-6 race car.
Saturday night we also got to see how a few of the teams with new drivers will perform. A couple of new pairings got off to a great 2013 start: Logano finished third Saturday night in what was his very first race for Penske Racing. Then there is Matt Kenseth, who ironically replaced Joey at Joe Gibbs Racing, who clearly had the fastest car but simply couldn’t get in the right position at the right time to pull off the victory. He still came away with a top five finish and that bodes well for the rest of 2013 Daytona Speedweeks.
What will we see from them the rest of the year? Saturday night was only a taste — the real season begins Sunday on FOX.