NASCAR has announced several changes for the 2013 season in regards to the Sprint Cup Series. Perhaps the biggest change will come with the official debut of the new “Gen 6” racecar, which after implementation, could lead to even more rule changes throughout the course of the season.
After two years of development, and some testing last season, the “Gen 6” (short for Generation 6) car will be unveiled at Daytona in February. The 2013 model was designed with manufacturer identity in mind – meaning the racecars will more closely resemble streetcars. As a way of increasing driver identity, drivers’ last names will be placed on the front windshields.
“The drivers are always going to be, as my dad used to say, the actors on the stage or the stars on the stage and so on, and that’s – we’re doing a lot of things to elevate their star power, and that’s the number one connection to our fan base and always will be, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that our drivers get the right attention and accolades, and not only in NASCAR but throughout all of sports,” said NASCAR CEO Brian France during a press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway prior to the season finale.
This refocusing is part of a larger industry plan to grow the sport’s fan base and engage current fans. According to the Associated Press, ESPN’s ratings from the season-closer at Homestead-Miami were down 25 percent from last year’s race, which happened to be the most-viewed in network history. To make things worse, ratings for all 10 Chase races this season were also either down or flat.
The NASCAR 2013 season will see changes to push attendance and viewership, and chances are the year will rely on trial-and-error to find what works and what doesn’t with the new cars. It will be important to give fans exciting racing to yield the results France and the industry are pushing for. According to a poll conducted by ESPN.com, the majority of respondents are most excited about more side-by-side racing in relation to the new Sprint Cup car.
“The missing and final piece, which we’re working on now, is to improve on the quality of racing,” France said before the Cup Series finale. “Everyone knows a stated goal of ours is to have the closest, most competitive, tightest racing that we can. And that’s what we’re testing now.”
The fact of the matter is that it takes a lot of testing, and time spent on all of the circuit’s different track surfaces and configurations, before drivers and teams will feel completely comfortable with the new car. In the meantime, it’s unlikely that they will be 100 percent at ease. The current car style used by the Sprint Cup Series, called the Car of Tomorrow, was introduced in the 2007 season, and changes have continuously been made to improve the handling, balance, and other functions to encourage more side-by-side, close racing, which is what the fans are looking for. The 2013 season will likely include similar rule changes for the “Gen 6” car, and how these factors are handled will set drivers and teams apart.
NASCAR also made the announcement that they will hold four test sessions throughout the season, not including the preseason test at Daytona. For the past four years, NASCAR prohibited teams from testing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, but this will change next season. During these sessions, teams will be able to experiment more with setups and gain valuable on-track data.
One of the bigger changes being made to the 2013 season will be the elimination of the top-35 rule, meaning NASCAR will revert back to its old qualifying format where the fastest 36 cars will make the race, with six provisional spots going to teams that don’t qualify based on speed, and are among the top in owner points. According to SportingNews.com, the top-35 rule, which guarantees the top 35 in owner points a spot in the race, has been in effect since 2005. The new format will likely appeal to fans, because it places more emphasis on competition and racing and creates the illusion of an even playing field. In addition to the change to the qualifying format, the order in which drivers qualify will now be determined by random draw rather than practice speed.
With many changes already in place for 2013, the upcoming season should be interesting for fans to watch unfold. Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski is optimistic when it comes to the changes for next season, but is the first to admit that things won’t be all hunky-dory at first. “There’s tremendous pressure because the odds are this car is not going to come out of the gate perfect — it’s going to take time,” Keselowski said during a recent appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, “but much like if you unveiled a new iPhone and rolled it out and said in a year we’re going to have it working right, your customers aren’t going to be very happy about that. We all know that and are braced for that. But we know long-term, this car is going to be part of the solution of getting NASCAR as strong as it possibly can be.”