The Gen 6 car brought a 6-pack of lessons for drivers and teams out of their Daytona track time.
1. Stay in the draft— Dale Earnhardt Jr made contact with Tony Stewart towards the end of the second segment of the Sprint Unlimited and caused him to drop to the back of the pack. Dale Jr thought he was having engine trouble, but when his team found nothing wrong with his car during the brief two-minute intermission, he assumed he just lost the draft. “With this spoiler on the back, it’s really easy to lose the draft because air gets to your nose pretty quick, and the distance of the draft isn’t as far back as it used to be off the car in front of you. So you can lose it pretty quickly. You have to be real careful,” Dale Jr said after the race.
2. The pack is finally back!— The two car tandem is no more! The Gen 6 cars raced around in a huge pack Saturday night during the Sprint Unlimited. No two cars hooked up and got away from the rest of the field! "It's going to be a pack, absolutely. I don't think there's going to be too many chances,” Kevin Harvick stated. “You'll see some cars break away. I think if you turn on a 2000 race, one of those races, it's going to be very similar."
3. Depend on your spotter— The lap 15 wreck during the Unlimited took 7 cars out of the race. What triggered the wreck? Tony Stewart thought he was clear before his spotter cleared him. The spotter has always been an important part of the team, but will he be even more important with the side draft coming back into play this season?
4. Make sure you comfortable— The Gen 6 has more differences than just looks from the Car of Tomorrow. Parts of the car are in different positions, the cars drive a little differently, react differently, and just feel different to the drivers. “Just the way that things are in the car, whether it be something silly like your side mirror, mine is in a much different spot, much different shape than what it was. The first five or six times I looked for the mirror, it was in a different spot, and I didn't see it because it wasn't there,” Harvick described to media after his win. “Silly stuff like that really matters because when you've been driving something week after week for four years, everything is in the same spot, and you move one simple thing six or seven inches, things become a lot different.” It will take track time for drivers to get used to the new feel. Could the drivers not being comfortable in the car affect the outcome of the Daytona 500?
5. Patience is a virtue- The drivers are going to have to be patient with the car. They are going to have to be patient with their teams as they start to figure everything out about the car. The drivers are going to have to be patient with the crew chiefs, as they are learning just like the team and their driver. They are going to have to get used to the feel of the car and the way the car races. It’s going to take time to get used to everything but once everything thing gets sorted out, it’s going to be an exciting season!
6. There’s still a lot to learn—Even with the first practices and the Sprint Unlimited in the books, there are still many questions surrounding the new car. Speed Weeks are always an exciting time, but the remaining days promise to be action-filled! Everyone still has a lot to learn about the new Gen 6 car. With the new cars come new setups, new calculations, and new driving styles. All week teams will be observing and learning from how the cars react in certain situations. Drivers think we should expect a lot of action in this coming weekend’s Daytona 500. I will be in Daytona on February 24 for my 3rd Daytona 500. I never thought my 3rd one could compare to the other two…but the past week proves that 2013 may be just as upredictable as a pothole and a Monday night jet dryer explosion!