Bob Mack / Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Bob Mack Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) Daniel Clark, 6, checks out Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Gen-6 race car at a NASCAR promotional event this week in Jacksonville, Fla. The new Gen-6 cars will debut Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

Daytona abuzz about Gen-6 race car's debut

Published: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 8:14 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There's a buzz about NASCAR and the season-opening Daytona 500 that has nothing to do with an exploding jet dryer or a well-timed tweet from a driver.

The new Gen-6 race car makes its long-awaited debut at Daytona International Speedway, and the success of the 2013 season could depend heavily on its performance. Already, things look good. After all, NASCAR's most popular driver has given the Gen-6 a ringing endorsement.

"This sport is going to be revolutionized again with this car," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after one of his first full test sessions in the car.

That's the shot in the arm NASCAR is looking for after a 2012 season that saw the quality of the racing criticized at times. Long green-flag runs and a lack of cautions frustrated fans, and that irritated drivers who openly wondered if fans were more interested in wrecks than they were in racing.

Behind the scenes, NASCAR was working hard on a new car that would replace the "Car of Tomorrow" after six years, and hopefully improve the on-track product. It was welcome news to Earnhardt, who won 17 races in the "old" car but only two after the CoT was introduced during the 2007 season.

"I struggled with the old car," he said. "I think the rest of the car is definitely a step back toward the old, original car we used to have. I think that's going to benefit me in certain areas. The car is really exciting. I'm looking forward to it."

So is NASCAR, which has worked with manufacturers and teams on both the look of the car and how it drives. The result is a car that resembles what the automakers sell in the showroom and a design that allows fans to tell if the car is a Chevrolet, Ford or Toyota.

And just in case a fan wasn't that car-savvy, the drivers' names and the manufacturer logo will all be on the windshield this year as NASCAR tries to make the car as big a star as the driver.

The car's debut comes Saturday night at Daytona in the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race, where fans can vote on various elements of the race format. It has created interest in Speedweeks, which last year were remembered most for Juan Pablo Montoya crashing into a jet dryer loaded with fuel and Brad Keselowski tweeting about it during the lengthy delay to put out the fire and repair the charred track.

The fireball put the Daytona 500 in the mainstream spotlight, but the racing that followed failed to entertain a wider audience.

Keselowski was thrust onto the national stage with his well-timed tweets, and he rode the wave all the way to his first Sprint Cup title. The win over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was a breakthrough for Keselowski, who gave team owner Roger Penske his first Sprint Cup crown and proved the odd pairing of driver and owner had blossomed into an elite tandem.

Concussion testing – NASCAR will likely require baseline concussion tests for all drivers in 2014.

Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing operations, said officials have also urged drivers to get an ImPACT test before this season.

"We've encouraged them all to get that, with the emphasis that in 2014 that almost likely will be mandated for all of them," O'Donnell said Thursday at Daytona. "We're in the process of doing that right now. We're educating them on what it is, how it works, and we'll come back with that for the 2014 preseason."

The test is used by many professional sports leagues, including the NFL, to assess concussions and determine when an injured athlete can safely return to play.

It's a computer-based series of fast-paced quizzes involving words, pictures and colors. Scores reflect how quickly and correctly the questions are answered.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.



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