New car setups present challenge in NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It’s been a long time since drivers and race teams have looked forward to testing.


But when the three-day Presea­son Thunder opens today at Daytona International Speedway, everyone will be eager to log as many monotonous laps as possible.

NASCAR’s sixth generation car has created a real challenge for teams getting ready for the Feb. 24 Daytona 500. Brand identity has returned to give each manufacturer a distinctive look, and the changes are so dramatic that last year’s setups now are useless.

“We need to understand how the 2013 cars work,” said Scott Miller, executive vice president of competition at Michael Waltrip Racing.

“We hardly have any miles on them. This car is a whole new beast for us. Daytona is going to be an exploratory test. There are a lot of things we are going to test down there.”

Chevrolet will debut the new SS, a car originally built in Australia. Toyota will stick with the Camry, while Ford has the Fusion. Dodge has withdrawn from the sport.

The track opens at 9 a.m. all three days. NASCAR will restrict the morning sessions to single-car runs, and then open the 2.5-mile raceway to multi-car drafts in the afternoon.

NASCAR didn’t release the specifications for the new car until a month ago. Most teams still are waiting to build up their fleets until the upcoming test is over because most believe the sanctioning body will make more changes.

“The test will be a work in progress for NASCAR, the teams and the drivers,” said former crew chief Larry McReynolds. “I’d love to say we will roll in there and everything will be outstanding with the new car with no changes or modifications needed, but there will be no way that will happen. We’ll possibly see NASCAR make small tweaks every day, if not every day during the lunch break and then again at the end of the day.”

McReynolds will be part of Speed TV’s 12 hours of live coverage (1-5 p.m., daily).

Since every team basically is starting from scratch, there will be a greater emphasis on getting a jump on the competition. That’s why everyone has a lot of things they want to accomplish at Daytona.

“It’s too early to say whether anybody is ahead of anybody yet,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “A situation like this is where everybody is kind of scrambling to learn as much as they can. There are some teams that will stand out, I’m sure.”

Unlike a typical race weekend, NASCAR will allow cars to be fitted with electronic devices to measure speed, aerodynamics and other variables.

During a test in December at Charlotte Motor Speedway, drivers said the new body styles unexpectedly created a lot more speed. In fact, some said the cars felt too fast.

“I’m interested to see how NASCAR will respond to the people complaining about the cars being too fast,” said retired champion Darrell Waltrip.