Friday, March 08, 2013

NASCAR Credibility And The Gen-Six Racecar

NASCAR's Generation Six racecar after just two races seems already to have set a new standard for controversy as NASCAR fined Denny Hamlin some $25,000 for public criticism of the car's lack of passing at Phoenix, this after the disappointing Daytona 500 (and the spectacle of Brian France's bullying dinner date with Brad Keselowski after Keselowski's USA Today interview critical of the sanctioning body). The fine has led drivers to refrain from criticism of the car, and racecaster Dave Moody comments taking both NASCAR and Hamlin to task. Moody takes hamlin to task for saying passing was harder now than before, noting Hamlin started 43rd and finished second at Phoenix. Moody has been a strong defender of the Gen-6 racecar and made valid points noting the car's hurried deployment and lack of parts at Daytona as contributory issues to the car's lack of passing.

But while there were such factors involved, the defenses of the Gen-6 racecar do not overall come across as valid, because the car's promises are familiar from the days of the unmourned Car Of Tomorrow, a vehicle that (much like the Gen-6) was advertised as a design that would reduce or even eliminate aeropush - and failed entirely. NASCAR's inability to deal with the sport's chronic lack of passing has been a running issue from the 2000 season onward. In the John Darby era, which spans the bulk of the last ten to twelve seasons, the sport has mandated multiple changes to tires, swar bars, the cutting of downforce, and now the COT and the Gen-6 - and outside of Daytona and Talladega the racing has been subpar - only in spots at races such as Pocono in 2009-10, at Charlotte's 600-miler in 2011 (also noteworthy were Charlotte's 2005 races with an epidemic of yellows), at Fontana on a hot September night in 2007, and at Dover in 2006 has the sport seen battles up front that live up to the sport's competitive promise.

Discussion within the sport certainly continues, with the softness of the tires a running controversy and also the splitter used on the cars, with advocacy that it be removed to allow air under the car, only to see that idea backfire in preseason testing with exacerbated inability to pass.

The recent catchphrase used is "give it time."   While the point on its own is valid, the history of the sport's consistent Darby-era failures in improving the ability to race weighs against everything revolving around this Gen-6 racecar.   And NASCAR's draconian reaction to driver criticisms adds more credibility issues because all it is doing is making more graphic that seemingly no one knows what they are doing.

And that is the greatest shame of all - it certainly is true that not every race can see 60 lead changes or anything close to that, but it's also true that 60 lead changes can - and absolutely should - not be the exception for the sport, whether it be the restrictor plate tracks, or the unfairly maligned "cookie cutter" intermediates, or the sport's low-banked superovals like Pocono and Indianapolis.    

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