NASCAR: Teams still frustrated finding traction with Gen-6 race car
It didn’t take Kevin Harvick long to realize the folly of his own words last Sunday. Moments after driving his car into Victory Lane at the Kansas Speedway, he didn’t have anything good to say about the way his race car drove during the race.
While his concerns were far more guarded than others, it proved there is a growing concern with NASCAR’s Generation 6 race car.
The newest car certainly is fast. Track records already have been broken 17 times this year in qualifying.
But much like NASCAR older versions, the new car remains perilously dependent on clean air.
Harvick won the pole at Kansas, and he led the most laps before winning by 100 yards. And yet he talked about driving two different cars – one that drove well out front; another that teetered close to crashing in traffic.
“We had one that was really fast out front and we had one that we really sometimes tight, sometimes really loose in traffic,” Harvick said. “You had to try to manipulate the car to make it through the corner.”
Others had the same troubles, but without winning results. There were nine different crashes involving 17 cars, most that started with a car spinning out of control in the turns.
NASCAR is looking for a solution. It knows the lead car in a restart has the advantage of clean air – and the downforce that comes with – while everyone struggles to find traction in the turbulent slipstream that follows.
The sanctioning body soon hopes to find some solutions when it conducts a test session to try out new suspension and aerodynamic devices.
An easier fix, however, may be putting the brakes on the escalating speeds, former champions Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett said.
“The cars are so fast, they’re on the edge all the time,” Jarrett said. “When you’re essentially running qualifying laps during the race, it’s really hard to run side-by-side because you’re just trying to hang on. They need to slow the cars down.”
Wallace would like to see the front bumper area changed. He doesn’t like the snowplow-like front skirts or most of the rules that allow the “splitter” to hug the racetrack.
Jamie McMurray will be one of the test drivers for NASCAR. He’d hopes his car is stripped of most suspension and aerodynamic pieces to start the slow process of finding mechanical, not aerodynamic, stability.
“I like the idea of the ground zero car,” he said. “I haven’t seen everything, but until you go try the stuff on the track, it’s hard to give your opinion. As a driver, we all have ideas, but 99 percent of them aren’t any good, they’re just our opinion.
“After the test I would probably have a much better idea of what I think they should implement and what would make the racing better.”
Harvick’s crew chief, Gil Martin, walked with NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman at Kansas as Harvick’s car went through inspection. The cars are so technically advances, a lot of the measurements are done with lasers.
Inman, who led cousin Richard Petty to 198 of his 200 career wins and all seven of his championships, said the car has become so much of a science project, he’s not sure the Pettys could have sorted through it all.
“I just looked at [Inman] and said, ‘What has this come to?’, and he was like, ‘If I had to keep up with all this way back, I don't know what I would have done,’” Martin said.
“There's just so much information now that it’s overpowering.”
Jeff Gordon and Harvick believe some of the solutions may be with the racetracks. New pavement adds to the overall speed – and treachery – to the cars. Fixing a track may be a lot cheaper and easier than rebuilding hundreds of race cars.
“To me it's really the surface,” Gordon said. “We’re paving these racetracks with what we’re paving new highways with. This is not a highway, it’s a racetrack and it’s a race car and a racing tire. It needs to be looked at differently.”
But for now the new car will get most of the attention. But at the current speeds, nobody believes the overwhelming advantage that comes with track position will go away.
“Track position is always going to be important,” McMurray said. “I don’t think they’re ever going to get any type of a race car that to be in the back is going to benefit you. I like the idea that they’re trying and they’re trying some I would say off the wall ideas and stuff that you would think would never happen in NASCAR, so it will be interesting after that test to see how that works out and try all the ideas that they have.”
Until then, some race winners will have the same concerns with the car as everyone else – even if they eventually take back their words.
“Yeah, we definitely don’t need to say that we said that because we don’t want the karma police to come get us,” Harvick said.
After all, fighting the race car is hard enough.