The Norman Transcript

February 14, 2013

NASCAR season arrives with a buzz

By Jenna Fryer
The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There’s a buzz about NASCAR and the season-opening Daytona 500 that has nothing to do with an exploding jet dryer or a well-timed tweet from a driver.

The new Gen-6 race car makes its long-awaited debut at Daytona International Speedway, and the success of the 2013 season could depend heavily on its performance. Already, things look good. After all, NASCAR’s most popular driver has given the Gen-6 a ringing endorsement.

“This sport is going to be revolutionized again with this car,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after one of his first full test sessions in the car.

That’s the shot in the arm NASCAR is looking for after a 2012 season that saw the quality of the racing criticized at times. Long green-flag runs and a lack of cautions frustrated fans, and that irritated drivers who openly wondered if fans were more interested in wrecking than they were in racing.

Behind the scenes, NASCAR was working hard on a new car that would replace the “Car of Tomorrow” after six years, and hopefully improve the on-track product. It was welcome news to Earnhardt, who won 17 races in the “old” car but only two after the CoT was introduced during the 2007 season.

“I struggled with the old car,” he said. “I think the rest of the car is definitely a step back toward the old, original car we used to have. I think that’s going to benefit me in certain areas. The car is really exciting. I’m looking forward to it.”

The car’s debut comes Saturday night at Daytona in the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race, where fans can vote on various elements of the race format. It has created interest in Speedweeks, which last year were remembered most for Juan Pablo crashing into a jet dryer loaded with fuel and Brad Keselowski tweeting about it during the lengthy delay to put out the fire and repair the charred track.

The fireball put the Daytona 500 in the mainstream spotlight, but the racing that followed failed to entertain a wider audience.

Keselowski was thrust onto the national stage with his well-timed tweets and he rode the wave all the way to his first Sprint Cup title. The win over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was a breakthrough for Keselowski, who grabbed team owner Roger Penske his first title and proved the odd pairing of driver and owner had blossomed into an elite tandem.

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