In 2013 it will be sort of a clean slate for NASCAR. An entirely new fleet of car models will compete on the Sprint Cup circuit, the Toyota Camry, the Ford Fusion and the Chevrolet SS.
These cars are intended to be very fast, of course, while at the same bear a more similar appearance to their street counterparts – which, among other things, is intended to help fans more closely identify with each model.
Gone from NASCAR is Dodge, which, ironically, claimed the 2012 Manufacturers Championship with Penske Racing and driver Brad Keselowski.
That said, there is always uncertainty when teams adopt new car models. Changes and adaptations, some big and some small, are always present.
I might add that has been the case every time NASCAR has made any competitive alterations, be they in car models, engine displacement, aerodynamics, wheelbase size and so forth.
So it follows that the team, or teams, that make the quickest adaptations to the new cars, and the rules that come with them, will be the first to gain a competitive edge.
Boy, I have a great grasp for the obvious, don’t I?
But it is a fact.
We’ve seen it countless times. It happened as recently as the coming of the “Car Of Tomorrow” a few seasons ago.
That diabolically different car – which only vaguely resembled anything we saw on the street – had the vast majority of teams bamboozled.
They didn’t know what to do with it. They kept fooling around with various setups and things of the sort – which put some of them in hot water with NASCAR – until, slowly, a few began to solve the mystery.
It seemed one team, Hendrick Motorsports, found an advantage and for a period of time put a very competitive COT on the track.
But, as it almost always happens in NASCAR, its rivals caught up and were a competitive match.
Since that time teams have been, for the most part, relatively equal. Now I’m not saying one didn’t have an edge here and there because it did. But I do believe that where it did have an advantage, its rivals held sway elsewhere. So things were reasonably balanced.
I remember that when the COT was introduced I said it would be only a matter of weeks before the teams had it figured out.
Turns out it was a matter of months.
But I think there is ample evidence that, indeed, they did it. And I think they will also get the measure of the 2013 models. Uh, I think I’ll refrain from saying how long it may take.
As said, teams have always had to find a way to adjust to NASCAR changes, whatever they may be. But it’s highly likely that an entirely new car model, which we’ll see in 2013, is going to present a myriad of challenges.
NASCAR has already provided organizations opportunities to adjust, the latest being the test sessions at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Dec. 11-12.
So far teams have been very cautious. They have proceeded slowly and, to me, have tried to be very precise when it comes to analyzing the information they’ve gathered – and it hasn’t been all that much.
They will learn more during added test sessions scheduled into 2013.
For more than one team testing will provide clues to something beyond just a new car. Champion Keselowski, for example, will have to deal with an entirely new manufacturer.
So will Matt Kenseth. He’ll have a different manufacturer but, because he has ended his long tenure with Roush Fenway Racing, he will also have to amend to a new organization, Joe Gibbs Racing, and a new crew and crew chief.
Keselowski will race Fords in 2013. Kenseth will compete in a Toyota.
They are fully aware of the challenges.
“It’s hard to get a great read on the whole manufacturer change because, obviously, it’s a different car,” Keselowski said. “But I think all the signs are there that we have the potential to be just as strong, if not stronger, than we were last year, which is very, very encouraging. We still have to work for it and make it happen.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re only a half-a-day into two really important days, not only for Penske Racing but for the sport itself and, hopefully, we can
continue to show progress.”
Keselowski will have a new teammate in 2013 as Joey Logano moves over from Gibbs. That, too, will require adjustment.
Keselowski is confident.
“I think Joey has the ability to unload at a place and just instantly be fast and that’s not my style,” he said. “It’s something that I would like to add to my arsenal because there are times where that’s really, really helpful, so those are some of the things I look
As for Kenseth, the 2004 champion, he will readily admit that his adjustments are going to be obviously plentiful. They not only include a new car, but also an entirely new team.
“A lot of the guys have been around for a long time so I know who they are and I’ve spent a little time over at the shop,” he said. “I certainly don’t know them as good as I’m going to or want to and all of that.
“So, yeah, it was different. I’ve got to be honest, it was probably the first time I’ve been nervous in a race car – getting in there and going out for the first time – in as long as I can remember.”
As for that new car, a Toyota, Kenseth takes a cautious approach, as do many others.
“I don’t know what the rules are going to be for sure,” he said. “I don’t have any idea how much they’re going to change or not change. That’s more of a NASCAR call than ours.
“They haven’t really had us testing anything yet and so I’m not sure how different they will be when we come back.”
At this admittedly early point in the development of the 2013 cars, it is reasonable to say teams are not certain of what they have, or of what they many eventually have.
Some will find that sooner than others, for whatever reasons.
In time, these teams will be the ones to move to the forefront and gain a competitive edge.
But, if we look to the past, it doesn’t seem likely NASCAR will let them have it for very long.