Report Card for the Gen-6 Car During the 2013 NASCAR Season
The start of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was rife with excitement over the debut of the new Generation-6 car.
This particular car promised a sleeker design, better racing and a general overall improvement to the sport.
Now that the season is over, it is time to take a closer look at the car and see if it lived up to all of its hype. After 36 races, NASCAR is already looking at ways to improve this car for the future, but where are the car's greatest areas of improvement needed?
In the slides ahead, I will take a look at five aspects of the Gen-6 car and grade it based on what we saw throughout the 2013 season. In some areas, the car already receives high marks. Other areas, however, still have room for improvement.
Overall Grade: A
With the inception of the Gen-6 car, each of NASCAR's three manufacturers were given more leeway in terms of the look of their respective race cars.
Toyota used its Camry model, Ford featured the Fusion and Chevrolet used its SS design. Thanks to NASCAR's flexibility, for the first time in many years, the cars that raced on Sundays actually looked similar to the production cars that each manufacturer produces for its customers.
This was important to all three car companies, as, in recent years, every car on the race track looked similar due to NASCAR's strict rules, and it was difficult to identify the individual manufacturer.
With one year in the books, all three companies are ready to focus more on improving their individual cars. With the design already in place, it can now be about improving the quality of racing without having to worry about the appearance of the car.
Overall Grade: A
Aside from brand individuality, there were a few other differences to the appearance of the Gen-6 car.
The most noticeable difference was that the driver's last name appeared in the top center of the windshield. While die-hard fans of the sport are sure to know who is in which car, this addition was helpful for newcomers to the sport to quickly identify who was who.
Also changing was the removal of the car number from the headlight and taillights, as well as the addition of a single sponsor name on the roof.
Perhaps the biggest change in appearance, though, was the overall shape of the car. This goes hand-in-hand with brand individuality, but the shape of the car was much more aesthetically pleasing. The Gen-6 car has defined body lines, whereas the Car of Tomorrow, used in recent years, was shaped like a brick.
Overall, the look of the new car is much better than anything NASCAR had rolled out in quite some time.
Overall Grade: A-
Safety is always the top priority in NASCAR, so it is no surprise that with the new car came a handful of safety updates.
The two primary safety upgrades on the Gen-6 car came in the roll cage and to the roof flaps.
The roll cage in this car received two additional support bars, a forward roof bar and a center roof bar, to help strengthen the cage as a whole and keep the driver even safer in the event of a rollover.
The other upgrade was the addition of larger roof flaps, which make it less likely that a car will become airborne in a crash.
Overall, the Gen-6 cars were very safe. Unfortunately, regardless of how safe a car is, injuries will happen. Both Denny Hamlin (back) and Martin Truex Jr. (wrist) suffered injuries during the season as a result of a crash.
The car gets an overall grade of A- in safety because while the cars are very safe, there is always room for improvement, as there will never be a time when a race car is too safe.
Overall Grade: A
One thing that the Gen-6 cars did not lack was speed.
In total, a new track record was set 19 different times this past season in only 32 events (four races were unable to hold qualifying due to weather).
Sixteen of the 23 tracks that host a Sprint Cup event saw their old qualifying records get broken. Three tracks, Martinsville, New Hampshire and Richmond, earned new track records both times that the series held an event.
Seventeen different drivers earned a pole award in 2013, with nine of them winning multiple poles.
The fastest qualifying lap of the season was Joey Logano's pole-winning circuit at Michigan. He ran it at a pace of 203.949 miles per hour.
Overall Grade: C
Unfortunately for the Gen-6 car, the category in which it earns its lowest grade is the one that is the most important: the actual in-race performance.
While the on-track action was by no means terrible during the 2013 season, it still lacked a lot of side-by-side action that race fans crave.
The cars had plenty of speed and the drivers were able to catch competitors in front of them. The biggest problem was once a car caught up to another car, it always seemed difficult to execute the pass.
As has been the case for many years, clean air was crucial.
The first great example was in the third race of the year at Las Vegas. Following a round of pit stops with 41 laps remaining, Matt Kenseth's crew got him out with the lead after taking just two tires while the rest of the field all changed four.
The last 25 laps saw Kasey Kahne, the day's dominant driver, constantly get to Kenseth's rear bumper, but he was unable to complete the pass and Kenseth ended the day in Victory Lane.
To its credit, NASCAR is aware of the lack of side-by-side racing, most notably on mile-and-a-half tracks. To help remedy the problem, it has a couple of offseason test sessions scheduled to try and find a setup that will make the races more competitive and action filled.
Overall Grade: B
Compared to the Car of Tomorrow, the Gen-6 car is a home run.
It looks like an actual car, which is more than you can say for the brick-shaped automobile that came before it. It also has plenty of speed, as proven by the 19 track records that fell in 2013.
The area where the Gen-6 car needs the most improvement is in race trim.
Still, given that this season was the first year of its existence, expecting the new car to be perfect right out of the gate is unfair. NASCAR is already working on making the car perform better, so it has to be given credit for its efforts to get it right.
Overall, the Gen-6 car has to be considered a success. There is more to like about it than not, and you get the feeling that with a little more testing and research, the competition level will be at a point that not only makes NASCAR happy, but also makes the fans happy.
For the total package, the Gen-6 car receives a "B" grade. For any race fan, this car provided plenty of things to like. While there is still room to improve, overall, it got off to a great start.