HMS Hope: New Cars To Produce Old Results
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – Rick Hendrick believes any of his four NASCAR Sprint Cup teams can win this year’s championship, but his drivers admit they have to figure out how to make the new 2013 Chevrolet SS compatible with their respective driving styles.
“It might not fit my driving style the way things are going right now, but when I look back to the end of the Monte Carlo era when we had all of that downforce on the cars,” five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said Wednesday, “we found a way to succeed. So I know I’ve got it in there. I might have to pull it out and dust if off and find it again, but I don’t think it will be that big of an issue.
“The more difficult the cars are to drive, the more difficult the tracks are from a design standpoint, the better I do. I think that goes back to my off-road roots. You couldn’t adjust an off-road truck. I learned to adapt and I think that has helped me with ill-handling cars and weird tracks that some people don’t like.”
Of the four Hendrick drivers, it’s evident Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most excited about the new car, even though he doesn’t believe they’ll start to understand it until the Phoenix and Las Vegas races in March when it starts sliding around on a hot race track. He admits he possesses an open mind about it and knows it probably will have some characteristics he “might not fall in love with.” However, he didn’t think the COT was a good fit for him.
“I struggled with the (COT) car,” Earnhardt Jr. told attendees of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour. “You couldn’t overdrive the car even half a car length into the corner. The thing would get pissed off at you. It was such an annoying thing to deal with every lap trying to get that car to go around the corner, having to drive within this little window of grip.
“I have a tendency to overdrive the cars at times. I think the old car you could do that because you had valance. If you over traveled the car, you just ground off more valance. You didn’t drag a splitter across the race track. This car we have today still has the splitter, but the rest of the car is definitely a step back towards the original car we used to have. I think that will benefit me in certain areas. In other areas I will have to learn and understand new things it does (that) you’ll have to tailor yourself to and understand.”
Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon envisions his team performing well on tracks that have an abrasive surface. However, he believes tracks with a new surface will be a challenge for him because “with these really rock hard tires … it’s not about being patient and sliding the car around and getting the chassis to work. It’s about track position and being aggressive.”
“For me, the key is not to lose sight of what helped me be successful, but also not to frustrate the team too much when something’s not working exactly the way I want it,” Gordon said. “The new car is just different. You don’t have the skew, so we’re learning a lot aerodynamically, what this car is going to need. We’re back to the older rear-end housings, (so) it’s going to take me some time to work with the setups for that initial throttle in the middle of the corners to not want to rotate real quick.”
Kasey Kahne, sporting a new fade haircut, seemed to take the switch to the 2013 car in stride, in fact, rather nonchalantly. He noted the Hendrick cars changed throughout the season last year, so this was just another change to a race car.
“My driving style is I always want to go as fast as I possibly can; not let the car slow down and keep my speed up,” Kahne explained. “I think that hurts me at certain tracks and helps me at others. This car is a faster car. You drive it harder; you’re on the gas more, off the throttle less, so hopefully, it’s good for us. I just think it’s a change, it’s something different and you have to adapt to it.”
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