DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –Excitement filled the Daytona International Speedway Thursday, the first day of NASCAR’s Preseason Thunder. Fans feasted their eyes on the new sixth-generation NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars, many of the drivers sitting behind the wheel of their new cars for the very first time.
Despite the fact this week’s sessions will be the only time for drivers to test-drive the new cars on the 2.5 mile superspeedway before Speedweeks and the season opening Daytona 500, many of them are feeling confident.
Reigning Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski seems to be feeling great about driving a Ford this year instead of a Dodge. He says he noticed major positives while visiting Ford headquarters in Detroit on Monday. He specifically pointed out the Ford team and their level of engagement, calling it remarkable.
“It shows the commitment that Ford has and I have never experienced that before,” Keselowski said. “That makes me feel very confident that any bit of adversity or any hurdle that we have to climb, we can do it because we have a dedication of resources and top-notch people.”
Danica Patrick, making her debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, is also looking at the change as a good thing.
“I think that for me as a first year full time in Sprint Cup,” Patrick said after the morning session spent in single car runs. “I think a new is car is probably a positive for me. Everybody is starting off at a little bit more of a level playing field, and who knows. Maybe this new car will play into my driving style a little better than the old one.”
The most noticeable difference for the new car, dubbed Generation 6, or Gen 6 for short, is the exterior; one that looks more like what fans will see in the showroom and more ‘stock’ than anything seen in NASCAR in years. NASCAR hopes this alone will bring more fans into the sport.
“I don’t think it’s going to hurt,” Keselowski said. “It’s naïve to think a car can solve everything. I think that’s really naïve, but it’s a big piece I think the sport needs to be the best it can be, and I think that commitment is something we should all be proud of.”
In the afternoon session several teams started drafting which brought speeds up significantly from the morning session. Matt Kenseth led the morning session consisting of single car runs with a top speed of 192.757. In the afternoon session, when cars spent time drafting, Kenseth’s new teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing Denny Hamlin led the charts with a speed of 195.712. Kenseth was right behind at 195.385 with the third JGR driver Kyle Busch in third at 195.329. Mark Martin and Jeff Burton rounded out the top five.
“This body style — we’re just trying to figure out where is the happy spot,” Hamlin said. “Does it want to be straight behind the other car? Do you want to be offset a little bit? Really it seems like the back car gets a lot of air to it. It essentially makes it hard to suck up to the front car, which I think will bode well for our competition at other race tracks going forward where the front car doesn’t have such a huge advantage. That part of it is pretty optimistic. It definitely will lend more to pack racing versus two-car tandem.”
Teams will have more opportunity to test the new body style as testing continues Friday and Saturday.