Positive start for next-gen Cup cars
12 December 2012
The first serious track test and development session for the 2013 generation of NASCAR Sprint Cup cars took place on Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with 16 of the current Cup drivers turning out to put the new hardware through its paces.
Brad Keselowski was trying out a Ford for the first time in his new Penske Racing car, after the team's decision to part ways with Dodge with whom they won the 2012 championship. Keselowski was joined by his new team mate Joey Logano, who transfers into Penske after finishing his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Logano's spot behind the wheel of the #20 JGR, Matt Kenseth, was also at Charlotte on Tuesday along with his new 2013 team mate Denny Hamlin. The third member of the JGR line-up, Kyle Busch, did not take part in the session.
Richard Childress Racing fielded Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon, while the Hendrick Motorsports squad was represented by Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Regan Smith.
Also present for the first of the two-day test were Juan Montoya (Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing), Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas Racing), Casey Mears (Germain Racing), Bobby Labonte (JTG-Daugherty Racing), Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports) and Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers).
"The cars drive really good," was the verdict of Dale Earnhardt Jr. "This is the first time I've drove the cars at all, but I'm really impressed. I like the downforce of the car, and the balance seems to be relatively good. The car drives well for us."
Better rear-end grip and improved aerodynamics got the thumbs-up, although the taller spoiler at the back attracted some criticism for limiting visibility. Grip was better and speeds faster in the colder morning conditions when the cars ran single file stints, while more race simulations in packs were conducted in the warmer afternoon temperatures.
"All in all, the feedback in the garage area has been very positive," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition after the first day's testing and development work on the sixth generation of Sprint Cup car, widely dubbed the 'G6'.
As well as a second day at Charlotte on Wednesday, there will be another two-day session at the same venue in January and an option to do more testing later in the month at Las Vegas before the Preseason Thunder session at Daytona that precedes the first Sprint Cup race, the Daytona 500, in February.
"When we hand this car off to the teams, it will be in the best shape we've ever handed a car off to the teams to start a new season," said Pemberton.
New regulations mean that the three manufacturers involved - Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota - can style the cars closer to their street car production models. Newly crowned 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski was of the opinion that one of the manufacturers in particular was setting the pace early on.
"I think the Toyotas have shown that they're going to be really, really tough to beat with this new car," said Keselowski. "If I was to venture a guess, I would definitely say that they're at the top of the list.
"I really like the way they finished last year, and for them, I think they have the capability of starting out next year even stronger than the field, so that will be interesting to watch," he added. "But there's still a lot of testing and a lot of development left to be done."
However, the newest of the Toyota drivers - Matt Kenseth - was still finding his feet in the new car, a mis-shift causing his engine to over-rev and require a replacement over the lunch break.
"My fault," admitted Kenseth afterwards. "Everything is different inside there, and I just put it in first gear instead of third and it didn't work out too good. It didn't blow it up, but they just changed it for precautions.
"I think the guys are in love with me right now," he quipped. "'Where did we get this clown? Give us the other one back.' Or something ... Like I said, my guys are real impressed!"
Kenseth admitted that he had been anxious about his first day with a new team, after having spent almost his entire 15-year Cup career with Roush Fenway Racing.
"I've been kind of nervous coming into this morning and walking to a different truck and a different team and all of that stuff," Kenseth agreed. "It was exciting and you're a little anxious when you go do something different
He added, "I couldn't wait to get to the track today and honestly I can't wait to get back in the car here."
1. #31 Jeff Burton Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 190.833 mph
2. #29 Kevin Harvick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 190.215 mph
3. #27 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 189.934 mph
4. #5 Kasey Kahne Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 189.853 mph
5. #22 Joey Logano Penske Racing Ford 189.321 mph
6. #20 Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 189.175 mph
7. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 189.122 mph
8. #42 Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 189.016 mph
9. #11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 188.580 mph
10. #24 Regan Smith Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 188.449 mph
11. #2 Brad Keselowski Penske Racing Ford 187.891 mph
12. #39 Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet 187.435 mph
13. #13 Casey Mears Germain Racing Ford 187.428 mph
14. #47 Bobby Labonte JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota 185.663 mph
15. #43 Aric Almirola Richard Petty Motorsports Ford 185.516 mph
16. #21 Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Racing Ford 183.286 mph
1. #24 Regan Smith Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 190.215 mph
2. #11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 189.954 mph
3. #20 Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 189.927 mph
4. #29 Kevin Harvick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 189.587 mph
5. #42 Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 189.567 mph
6. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 189.560 mph
7. #5 Kasey Kahne Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 189.553 mph
8. #27 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 189.056 mph
9. #2 Brad Keselowski Penske Racing Ford 189.036 mph
10. #31 Jeff Burton Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 188.963 mph
11. #22 Joey Logano Penske Racing Ford 188.772 mph
12. #39 Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet 187.559 mph
13. #13 Casey Mears Germain Racing Ford 187.448 mph
14. #47 Bobby Labonte JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota 187.415 mph
15. #43 Aric Almirola Richard Petty Motorsports Ford 187.409 mph
16. #21 Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Racing Ford 183.374 mph