Competitors will see their fourth different track configuration of 2013 this week. After starting the 2013 season at Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile restrictor-plate layout, teams have visited a mile (Phoenix) and a 1.5-mile intermediate track (Las Vegas, which saw a Loop Data record 31 green-flag passes for the lead).
Now it’s on to a short track, Bristol, where the 0.533-mile high-banks are concrete surfaced. In a normal season, this would be no big deal. But this year is hardly that with the rollout of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Gen-6 cars.
The challenge of adapting the new cars to different tracks is obvious. But the construction of enough equipment – teams effectively have been “away from home” since mid-February – may be even more daunting. At least Bristol is in the neighborhood, a few hours west of the majority of the team bases in Charlotte, N.C.
In three races – and three track types – no team or manufacturer appears to have found an edge over its rivals.
Each nameplate has won a race: the Chevrolet SS and five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in the Daytona 500; the Ford Fusion and Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards at Phoenix and most recently the Toyota Camry and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth in Las Vegas. Kenseth’s victory was the 50th for Toyota, which joined the series in 2007. Toyota has won five of the last eight Bristol races, all by JGR drivers.
Las Vegas and Phoenix saw one of each brand among the top three. Each manufacturer had a spot among the first four Daytona 500 finishers. Two organizations – Hendrick Motorsports and Penske Racing – boast top-five finishes in each of the opening trio of races.
Another indicator of how the drivers are adapting to the new car can be found among the top 10 finishers of last weekend’s Kobalt Tools 400. Seven of the 10 qualified for last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.
So far, there has been parity among series manufacturers with Chevrolet and Ford each claiming a victory. Last Sunday’s race in Phoenix found all three nameplates taking a spot in the top three.