The Feb. 6 Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will provide a few hints about the NextGen car.
Preseason tests indicate that the speeds of the new car will be close to those of previous years (around 190 mph).
How the NextGen vehicle will perform in huge drafting packs remains to be seen.
So, after all the talk, all the planning, all the testing, all the analyses, how the heck will NASCAR’s new race car perform in the Daytona 500, stock car racing’s biggest event?
The Feb. 6 Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will provide a few hints about the NextGen car, a dramatic departure from previous Cup vehicles. But the relatively slow speeds and tight track in LA are almost exact opposites of the landscape the cars will run on two weeks later at Daytona International Speedway, well-known as wide-open in both speed and space.
The Daytona 500 doesn’t define the season. Most of the rest of the schedule is on shorter, slower tracks, but the television and other media focus on NASCAR’s most important race, not to mention a sellout crowd, obviously make Daytona a very important opener.
Preseason tests indicate that the speeds of the new car will be close to those of previous years (around 190 mph), but how the NextGen vehicle will perform in huge drafting packs remains to be seen. Drafting during test runs was limited to about a dozen cars, and groups of 30 or more cars probably will produce an entirely different scenario.
Passing within drafting packs will likely require two or more cars moving forward together, a familiar concept from previous seasons.
“This car has a fair amount of drag (making it move through the wind with difficulty),” said Joey Logano. “When you pull out and hit the air, it’s abrupt. You can pass, but it’s going to take the right scenario.”
Drivers experimented during testing with two-car “tandem” drafts, once a very useful form of racing at Daytona. But the round shape of the car’s bumpers will make “hooking up” with a teammate difficult.
“You can’t do the tandem push draft long,” Logano said. “The bumpers are rounder. It’s like two marbles pushing each other.
“There’s a lot of risk and reward. When you go out there, you’ve got to think about a lot.”
Fox Sports analyst Jamie McMurray said how cars respond during testing and how reality will be when the real racing starts typically are quite different.
“Even if you think you’re being aggressive in a test, you’re not nearly as aggressive as you are in a race with something actually on the line,” he said. “You’ll have a much bigger group of cars. The worst thing at a superspeedway race is when guys talk about having the beach ball effect, that you can’t get next to the other guy’s bumper, making it hard to pass.
“And now guys are learning a completely new aerodynamic package. Everything is new.”
Long-time car owner Eddie Wood, whose Fords will be driven this season by rookie Harrison Burton, agreed.
“One thing that’s cool about this car is that I don’t know any more about it than anybody else, and you don’t know any more about it than anyone else,” he said. “Nobody has really tested it. It will be a first for everyone. It’s kind of like shooting the first rocket up with (astronaut) Alan Shepard in it.”