Lady and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

The winter doldrums are about to come to an end! In less than one week, the 2013 NASCAR racing season officially begins with the 55th running of the Daytona 500! This season is being anticipated as the season to reignite fan support and enthusiasm back to the sport with changes in the cars and how NASCAR interacts with its fans.

The Next Generation of Race Cars

The biggest change between the 2012 and 2013 racing seasons is the cars. NASCAR is retiring the Car of Tomorrow (CoT) (2007-2012) and moving on to Generation 6. The shift from carburetors to electronic fuel injection (EFI) systems seen in the 2012 racing season will continue with the move to Gen 6, and the safety features introduced with the CoT (along with some others, like additional support bars in the cockpit) will be incorporated into Gen 6 cars as well. Other changes in these new racers are expected to put the challenge of ideal track handling back in the hands of the drivers and crew chiefs.

Design changes in Gen 6 cars are intended to make racers more closely resemble the production cars—the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet SS and Toyota Camry, bringing brand identity back to the sport. More importantly, though, design changes in the 2013 Gen 6 car reduce aerodynamic downforce by nearly half compared to the CoT, making driving significantly looser. That means crew chiefs will have the challenge (and opportunity) to create downforce (i.e. track stability) by working on the chassis. That also means that drivers will need to up their game, as it will be their skill rather than the car’s aerodynamics that will have to keep them from under- or oversteering around the turns.

What to Expect from Gen 6 Racing

The new generation of race cars is expected to make NASCAR racing more exciting. First, pack driving, rather than two-car tandems, is expected to return to the raceways, particularly Daytona and Talladega. Second, with the looser driving requiring refined driver skill, the “bump and run” is likely to be seen more frequently as a way for veteran drivers to remind rookies how they’ve made a name for themselves in the sport (or for rookies looking to make a name for themselves). Looser driving will introduce more instability in pack driving and will make spins more common for both bumped and bumping drivers, so fans may entertained by more wrecks, and not just single cars bouncing off the walls—we’re talking big, multiple car wrecks.

NASCAR Fan Support

In response to waning fan support, NASCAR seems poised to use social media to engage existing fans, reach out to new ones and really build on the excitement that the Gen 6 changes are expected to infuse into the sport. NASCAR has already worked to make its own website more interactive. Case in point—check out the way you can explore the three Gen 6 cars making their Sprint Cup debut this weekend.

After last year’s dismal ratings for the Monday night prime time race, NASCAR is returning the Daytona 500 to Sunday. Catch the action on Fox Sports. Race begins 1:00 pm Eastern Time.