Earnhardt Jr. shakes down his new Chevrolet. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR teams took to Charlotte Motor Speedway Tuesday to begin testing the new 2013 Sprint Cup cars, and early indications are that new-generation machines will not only look better than the cars they replace, but race better, too. Dale Earnhardt Jr., for one, was clearly relishing the prospect of returning to a car that handles more like those from the early days of his career.
“It's really early in the game but I'm real impressed,” said Earnhardt. “I like the balance of the car, the downforce, seems to be relatively good and the car drives well.
“The car has really awesome potential, and I like it already leaps and bounds beyond the old COT. This car really gives me a lot of similar sensations to the car of 5-10 years ago.”
“The cars feel good; they've got a ton of grip,” agreed Matt Kenseth, making his first appearance in his new Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota at the Charlotte test. “They've got a lot of rear grip, especially, with that cambered rear end. Seems like a lot more grip than when we raced here in the fall.”
Earnhardt reckoned the overall package was a clear step forward, although there were some details still to be worked through.
“We didn't get a chance to run any cars together or around each other too much. That is kind of what I meant by it being early in the game. It's just we only run for four hours, just by ourselves. From what I could see, nobody else was really in a competitive kind of atmosphere out there with other racecars. The body on the car behaves better aerodynamically. You still have a splitter, you still have similar geometry and whatnot – we've got a gigantic rear spoiler on the car, you can't see out of the car very well, but that spoiler's doin' a lot, and NASCAR seems to think that gonna provide a package for better racing. It definitely gives the car more comfort and it does resemble what we ran many years ago – and those were pretty good racecars back then!
“But it's still early so I'm tryin' not to get too excited; we've got a lot of things to learn and there's still some rules to be finalized. It's important for us drivers and teams to help NASCAR as much as we can and we're all working toward the same goal this week, to put a good show on.”
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said the narrower, taller spoiler being used for the test was constructed to reach the numbers the sanctioning body deemed for drivability and downforce. He added that there are additional elements that may be implemented to improve the raceability of the cars.
“There's things that we have discovered through our lap testing – not on the track – that we may implement before the start of the year to help the cars run in traffic, and to have less of a deficit in the back of the pack, he explained. “We've added some mechanic grip with the rear camber and we've put some large margins in there to give the teams opportunity to work on their rear-end housings and to get that grip. It will not be the same at every racetrack we go to, just like the tires will not be the same. So, we're listening to input about that and about the aerodynamics, but for the most part we're keeping an open mind and at this point things seem to be fairly positive about everything we've been able to do.”
Kenseth admitted to feeling some nerves about his first run with Gibbs' Toyota squad after his 14-season stint with Jack Roush's Ford's – which he says led to a mistake that prompted an engine change.
“I guess it was a good ice-breaker,” he mused. “Still kind of nervous coming in this morning and walking to a different truck and a different team. Anyway, on my last run I proceeded to go from second gear to first gear and overrevved the engine, so they're back there changing it. So I think the guys are in love with me right now…”