Sunday, February 17, 2013

NASCAR's 2013 Opening Dud

The renamed Daytona Shootout was won by Kevin Harvick in rather uncompetitive fashion and it constituted the debut of NASCAR's "Generation Six" racecar as well as a tweaked rules package for the aerodynamics intended to eliminate any vestige of tandem drafting from the 2009-12 period. This goal was debuted in 2012 and while overheating issues got in the way, tandem drafting wound up winning Daytona's races anyway - but with a huge drop in competitive depth for the series with a forgettable Daytona 500 and a dismal Firecracker 400 marred by the biggest Daytona wreck in decades. The 2013 Shootout - dubbed The Sprint Unlimited - proved very limited as far as competitive racing goes.

At some point the Race Stream Media - the most pliant in pro sports - needs to start calling out NASCAR for the fundamental absurdity of these rules packages and the premise behind them. Lack of passing proved 2012's approach didn't work; 2013's Shootout proved this anew but with greater effect. Without the tandems and with less downforce, the drivers couldn't race. And chances are the difference in competitive depth will be even more pronounced when the Nationwide Series, which produced three of the six best NASCAR races of 2012 - the other three were the Diehard 500 and the two NASCAR Modified 100-lappers at New Hampshire - hits Daytona's high banks. The three plate races for the N'wide Series run the package that allows near-unlimited tandem drafting and it produced a combined 117 lead changes in those three races, including race records for Daytona.


NASCAR is curiously spinning the Generation Six car with the claim that Chevrolet might have quit the series had NASCAR not knuckled under to "brand identity, even with a denial of such from Chevy's racing boss. Regardless, NASCAR is hyping these "new" bodies quite a bit - and the story behind this machine's creation shows some surprising cooperation and outright camaraderie between NASCAR and the manufacturers - even though they're not terribly different from 2012 bodies and the reality remains that Form Follows Function, making radical differences impossible to begin with. It's another area where NASCAR and the manufacturers are being myopic. Real brand identity is reflected in the length of a brand's car, the width, and in body stylings that do not follow what the other brands have - a flatter hood, a completely different rake in the roofline, etc.

As it is, what NASCAR and the manufacturers should be doing is reverting to the long snout, lean, raked roofline aerocoupe bodies of yore, not pushing the same top-heavy sedan bodies they've been racing for over six years. As far as the overall rules package with the cars, NASCAR should bring back the roof blade, shave some bumper off to allow air to flow better (and get rid of the "beachball" aeropush discussed in these Generation Six cars), go back to a six-inch rear spoiler, and make it out of the clear plastic used on the rear spoiler of many Late Model and Pro Stock short track cars and also on the Cup cars' "sharkfin" atop the rear glass - a constant gripe in the tandem drafting period was drivers couldn't see through the spoiler out the front windshield of the lead car in a tandem; it remains puzzling why switching to clear plastic spoilers hasn't been explored.


Among the individual racers in the Shootout, apart from race winner Kevin Harvick, challenger Tony Stewart, and early dominator Matt Kenseth in his debut in Stewart's former JGR #20, the only drivers who stood out were Greg Biffle (race runner up), Joey Logano in his debut with Penske Racing, and a sixth place run for Richard Petty's #43 and Aric Almirola, who was abysmal most of 2012 but who salvaged something in a quiet but solid effort.

Curiously undercompetitive were the Hendrick Chevrolets; Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon crashed out after struggling to stay up with the leaders while Dale Junior was hardly inspiring en route to seventh and Kasey Kahne didn't impress anyone, either. It was a fitting end to a Shootout that was propelled by a new racecar and a rules package that conspired to ruin the competitive quality of the racing all because Brian France has a personal and irrational dislike of tandem drafting.

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