DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, adores the new Generation 6 car that will make its debut as NASCAR's new standard Sprint Cup car at Daytona.
"It puts the stock back in our race cars," Pemberton says.
Or, as former Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch puts it: "This is probably the car we should have had six years ago."
The cars bring a bolder, more-identifiable look. They look similar to the Chevrolets, Fords and Toyotas on showroom floors. The often-maligned Car of Tomorrow enhanced safety but did so at the expense of a homogeneous, boxy design and so-so competition.
"The 2012 Impala had six [body] parts that differentiated it from its counterparts," observes Pat Suhy, Chevrolet's engineering and program manager for NASCAR. "The new car actually has 31 new body components, from glass to hoods to composite noses and tails and the stamped sheet metal on the sides. With all the differentiations, we ended up with a race car that looks just like the 2013 production model."
The Generation 6 car has done wonders for brand identity. But it remains to be seen if the new model with will improve the racing.
NASCAR CEO Brian France says the new car will be judged by the number of lead changes it produces and how drivers feel about the way it races. "Everything is designed for closer competition," France says.
NASCAR might have to do some tweaking. Leading up to today's Daytona 500, drivers have found it difficult to pass on the high-banked, 2.5-mile oval. Furthermore, there have been times when the car seems to have a mind of its own in traffic.
"We see people out here having a hard time with it, spinning out, crashing in practice left and right," said Kyle Busch after winning the second Budweiser Duel on Thursday. "Some guys out there today were a little squirrely.
"There was something weird with the aero stuff. Once you break traction in either tire, it seems like it's really hard to get that back. The car takes off on you. We saw that a little bit with Denny [Hamlin, who got tangled with Carl Edwards in the first Bud Duel]. We saw that with [Ryan] Newman and Carl in practice."
Daytona will not tell the whole story. The Generation 6 car will respond differently on each track the Sprint Cup circuit visits and specs will be adjusted. So, while the car of the future is here, it remains a work in progress.