Monday, March 4, 2013

No Reason to Panic – Yet

So far, the Gen-6 cars are having a hard time passing
It’s not time to panic.  Not yet.  It’s not even time to be worried.  But the race at Phoenix is cause for concern.
For the second straight week the highly promoted and anticipated Gen-6 race car produced something less than an exciting race.  There were only 12 lead changes this past weekend, compared to 25 in the race a year ago.  Worse, most of those lead changes were the result of caution flags.  In fact, race winner Carl Edwards took the lead when he came in under the caution in fourth and beat Dale Earnhardt, Jr. out of the pits.  That was that.  Edwards led the final 78 laps.
After the race Denny Hamlin, whose last lap pass was the move of the race and got him into third place, didn’t have much good to say about the new cars. 
“I hate to be Denny downer, but I just didn't pass that many cars today,” Hamlin said.  “That's the realistic fact of it. You look and we started 40 something.  We finished third and you think that we just motored our way through the pack, and that's just not the case of what happened.
"Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you.  You could have placed me 20th with 30 to go, and I would have stayed there, I wouldn't have moved up. It's just one of those things where track position is everything."
Some said the spoiler was too small at Daytona, too large at Phoenix.  Others said the tires were too hard.  Fourth place Brad Keselowski said it was clean air – or lack of it.
"I think it’s probably more important than ever,” Keselowski said of the aero situation.  “I think these cars probably drive easier than any race car I’ve ever driven in my life by themselves, and probably the hardest to drive of any race car I’ve ever driven in traffic.  I think we can get that a little bit better and probably make them a little more difficult to drive by yourself, but a little easier to drive in traffic, we could have even better races than what we had today."
Rightfully, no one is calling for immediate changes to the Gen-6 car.  Among those asking for patience is Jimmie Johnson.  But remember, it was the No. 48 team that first got a handle on the Gen-5 Car of Tomorrow and the team seems to have a leg up on the new car as well.  He thinks more attention needs to be paid to track surfaces.
"It didn't seem a lot different than other races here to me since the reconfiguration,” Johnson said of Phoenix.  “I don't think the Gen-6 car has anything to do with it at this point.  The cars are equal, and when they're equal, you're going to have a situation like this. What we need now is the racetracks to consider the asphalt they're putting down and even reconfigure the lanes so that we have somewhere to race.
“I think next week in Vegas we have a track that has multiple lanes and we'll see some great side-by-side racing. The garage area and the teams and owners and the competition side of NASCAR have worked so hard to make these cars equal and we keep changing and jumping through hoops, new chassis, new bodies, new this, new that. The cars are equal and when they're equal you're going to have a situation like this. What we need now is the racetracks to consider the asphalt they're putting down and even reconfigure the lanes so that we have somewhere to race.
"I think we have a great product. It's going to continue to get better. One of the things that we've all recognized over the years is the faster we go, the narrower track gets, the harder it is to pass. Speeds will be up, especially when we get to the mile-and-a-halfs, so with all that being said, I think we need to leave the cars alone for a good 10, 20 years. Let the teams be. Right here on this blacktop there's a lot of work that can be done to help create better racing and keep the fans in the grandstands.”

Johnson’s right, we’ll know much more next week at Las Vegas, the 1.5-mile track similar to so many others on the NASCAR circuit.  Unfortunately, those tracks are often the ones most affected by aero conditions.  Perhaps realizing the situation, NASCAR has scheduled an extra day of pre-race practice.  It’s a shame NASCAR, the manufacturers and the teams couldn’t get it done during during the off-season.  Now fans will have will have to be patient while the Gen-6 car continues to be a work in progress. 

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take 10 to 20 years.

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