CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — With just over three weeks remaining until the debut of the Gen-6 race car, NASCAR is convinced its product will be better this season.
Much of the behind-the-scenes effort last year was spent on developing the car, which hits the track Feb. 15 at Daytona International Speedway for the first practice of SpeedWeeks.
The car was a collaborative effort between NASCAR, manufacturers and teams, which NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Tuesday was "unparalleled in my 34-plus years in the sport." He said the car has "fans and the drivers as anxious as a six year old on Christmas morning."
The car was the centerpiece of NASCAR's stop Tuesday on the annual Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It was NASCAR chairman Brian France who demanded a new car in a desire to tighten up the racing, and he said Tuesday he's so far "quite satisfied" with what he's seen in testing the last two months. NASCAR has twice tested at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and was at Daytona earlier this month.
But it remains to be seen how NASCAR will determine if the Gen-6 car is truly a success. The first true test of the car won't come until the third race of the season, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the first 1.5-mile track on the schedule.
The racing has struggled most at the intermediate tracks, where passing was difficult and cars spread out into single-file lines. France was asked how NASCAR will know if it has achieved what it had hoped with this new car.
"I think we'll measure (success) by lead changes, we'll measure it by how it races, we'll measure it by how the drivers feel about it, and knowing that not everybody will always love every rules package or thing that we do, that's for sure, but we'll look at it very simply," he said. "Everything is designed to have closer competition, and we'll see. I'm quite confident that I know we're going to make improvements."
Unlike the last new car, the much maligned "Car of Tomorrow," drivers have been complimentary toward the Gen-6 during the three offseason test sessions.
At least one person remains unconvinced that a new car is the quick fix to NASCAR's problems: Speedway Motorsports Chairman Bruton Smith called again for slowing down the stock cars to improve the on-track product.
"If they can slow the cars down racing would be more competitive," Smith said.
France said he believes NASCAR is on the right track, based on the collaboration that went into the development of the Gen-6 car and the push to create a race car that again resembles what the automakers sell in the showroom.
"We worked a lot closer with the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and others to do two things: To get a car that looks from a technical standpoint and a resemblance standpoint similar to what is in the showroom, and to use innovation and the research and development center to work on making sure that our promise of the closest and most competitive racing in the world is kept," France said.
France also admitted mistakes were made with the CoT, which fans and drivers both disliked. The car also was the furthest removed from the product sold in the showroom.
"You're always 100 percent accurate when you get to look backward, right?" he said. "Intended to try to make racing better, and costs were a huge thing, as they still are today. We did significantly bring costs down, and safety was a big thing, as it is now. We significantly improved that. But it would be fair to say that in doing those things, we weren't as in step as we are today with the manufacturers."
NASCAR also said it expects a new track-drying system it developed to dramatically reduce drying time after rain. The system uses compressed air and heat; France said it is designed to dry a track like Martinsville in 15 minutes and could cut the drying time at Daytona from two and a half hours to 30 minutes.
"It's going to be a spectacular thing, and all auto racing will benefit from this as we go down the road," France said.