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CUP: Gen-6 Car Carries Big Burden

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Is the Gen-6 the fix?

While the previous NASCAR Sprint Cup model (originally called the Car of Tomorrow but recently mysteriously changed to the Gen-5) was designed and built with safety in mind after a string of on-track tragedies, the Gen-6 is mostly about lighting fires under the Sprint Cup competition index.

A significant part of NASCAR’s thrust in designing and refining the new car was to juice competition and make Cup racing closer and tighter, particularly at the series’ intermediate tracks, which have hosted more than a few snoozers in recent seasons.

The new cars have generated a significant level of excitement for two primary reasons: 1) They are NOT Cars of Tomorrow and 2) their body styles are designed to more closely resemble the street cars Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota build. This was important to the car manufacturers, who want track interest to transfer into showroom sales.

The season-long journey of the new car model will begin Sunday in the Daytona 500 after preliminary runs in last week’s Sprint Unlimited non-points race and Thursday’s 150-mile qualifiers.

Results at Daytona International Speedway and next week’s second tour stop – Phoenix International Raceway – probably won’t be as revealing as far as the car’s long-term standing as will Race Three March 10 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. LVMS is one of nine 1.5-mile tracks on the schedule. Although all are not identical, what works on one typically works at the next.

So far, so good, in the estimation of many drivers.

“The car's got a lot of downforce so far,” said Tony Stewart, who was an outspoken critic of the Car of Tomorrow when it debuted in 2007. “A little easier to drive. For a new car to come out in that short amount of time, for it to drive that well, that's a pretty big feather in NASCAR's cap to have a car that drives that stable.”

At most tracks, Stewart said, the car is likely to be easier to drive, theoretically improving competition.

“You're able to be a lot more aggressive with it,” he said. “I'm not sure you have to have as much finesse with it. I think it's going to give more drivers an opportunity to run a lot better with it because, like I say, it's got a lot of downforce and a lot of side force. It will definitely catch mistakes that they make.”

The new car is a welcome change for Jamie McMurray, who made no attempt to hide his contempt for the previous model.

“I thought the Generation-5 car was the ugliest car of all time,” he said. “I thought it was horrible. I think this is the best-looking car we’ve ever been in. I’ve been so anxious and excited to see the pictures of the different paint schemes that are coming out this year, and every paint scheme, even if it’s the same one from last year on this car, it looks better.

“You’re like, ‘That looks great.’ And I think it’s cool that we have some brand identity. So, if you’re a Chevy fan, you have something to pull for. Where before the cars just had different decals on them, they are actually different now, which is cool.”

NASCAR officials and representatives of teams and the three car manufacturers say there was unprecedented cooperation between the parties in the development of the new car.

“I think NASCAR took the right approach with the engineers from the different race teams, as well as the manufacturers, to work not only on the design but the complexity of everything that goes into designing these cars instead of just taking it on their own and doing what they did with the COT,” Kyle Busch said. “There's a lot more hype built around this car this year.”

The new car could get a rude greeting in its points-race debut Sunday. Daytona 500 temperatures are expected to be in the 70s, and that’s likely to promote a slick track. Multi-car wrecks could be the norm.

Aric Almirola said warmer weather will make the race “Crazy. Absolutely. One hundred percent. What a wild race that will be. The cars are a handful in the draft. It will be fun, though.”

The fun factor is one NASCAR is relentlessly promoting with the new car.

On Sunday, the big run for the Gen-6 will begin.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.