The Chevy 2013 Zebras!
By Mike Mulhern
Given the pressure NASCAR execs are putting on Sprint Cup teams to get this 2013 project clicking, it might not be surprising that Wednesday's seven-car test here of Daytona-Talladega models is drawing good reviews from teams.
Drew Blickensderfer, crew chief for Richard Childress and Jeff Burton, was at the test here:
"The first thing we saw was that two cars, no matter where the grill opening was, found it really hard to hook up.
"Because the curvature of the front bumper. The new cars have less downforce than the current cars, and the curvature of the front bumper makes it a handful for the front driver to control his car. Whenever he moves left or right, it really affects both race cars.
"All the drivers said that.
"And NASCAR has extended the rear tail, to make it even harder to push. And they raised the front grill, which makes it harder to push and keep your temperatures down. So it's hard to push for any extended period of time.
"They pack-raced, and all the drivers loved the way the cars drove. They could by themselves around somebody.
"We had seven cars in a line, and we were the fifth car, and we pulled out of line and pulled around the fourth car all by ourselves, and got back in line. It looked a lot like Truck racing.
"The drivers say now if somebody wrecks, it will an 'ability' wreck, instead of a 'mess-up' wreck.
"You can wreck on your own.
"It's more in the driver's hands.
"We liked what we saw here Wednesday. Honestly, it was good.
"It's just so far out of a driver's hands when it gets three-wide, 15-rows deep.
"Wednesday we could actually see guys out there passing each other. They could actually do something...where here Sunday it will just be single-file."
Drew Blickensderfer (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
"You could bump-draft, but you couldn't tandem," Blickensderfer said.
"The Toyotas hooked up and tried to pass everybody; but Jeff got behind them and could keep up, all by himself.
"There just wasn't a time advantage in being hooked up, because you had to have your car so off-set, to keep it cool and not wreck the other guys.
"Nationwide cars are hard to hook up, and guys who have driven Nationwide cars, like Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse, said it's twice as hard to up these new cars as those cars."
So Blickensderfer says he was pleased with the test. "The drivers said the cars were a handful to drive, but you could actually pass people, and have it more in your own hands."
However, as much pressure as NASCAR is putting on everyone to make this 2013 project a success, or at least sound like a success, how is anyone to weigh such praise without skepticism?
"Well, you can filter this by judging what we all think here in the garage about that new (NASCAR inspection) platform," Blickensderfer says.
"Most of us here in the garage will tell we think that idea stinks.
"The measuring platform they're trying to go to for next year, as seen in the garage over there, is going to cost a bunch of money. And we'll all have to buy one of those machines.
"Most of the teams don't like that system."
After two years of expensive development, and 37 iterations, NASCAR is unveiling the massive new laser-inspection machine here, on a trial basis. It is designed to bring part of the weekly inspection process up to Formula One standards.
The new inspection 'table,' a huge, long piece of aluminum cageworks that laser-scans points on each car is the object of much attention by crew chiefs here.
"It should be a lot quicker for pre-race inspection," Blickensderfer says. "It's supposed to be about 90 seconds from the time you roll the car up there for inspection and when you roll it off.
"That would take about 15 minutes off the inspection process."
This weekend here inspection is about 1-1/2-hour longer than typical pre-practice inspections, Blickensderfer says. "Typical pre-qualifying inspection here is about three hours."
Will teams indeed have to buy one of these expensive machines?
"Not if they're smart...but some will, if they have money to burn," Tommy Baldwin, crew chief turned car owner, says. "We all have Romer Arms that can laser spot-check the car. And that's good enough."
NASCAR's Robin Pemberton, watching the 2013s (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)