NASCAR's new season begins Saturday, and there's something a bit different on the track: a new car. NASCAR says it's betting on the future of the sport with the introduction of this new ride.
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The NASCAR season begins today, vroom, with a big change on the racetrack, a new stockcar to replace the model that's been used for years. NASCAR executives are betting the future of their sport on the idea that a new ride can lead to better racing. From member station, WFAE, Michael Tomsic explains.
MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: The new car, called Gen 6, is all about flashy looks and aggressive driving. This video that opened NASCAR's preseason conference in Charlotte gives you the idea.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Gen 6 has arrived with an old-school appeal. The racetrack and showroom arm in arm once again.
TOMSIC: The old-school appeal comes from carmakers getting to alter the body of the cars again. In the previous model, the paint job was the only way you could tell them apart. Now, there's a difference between the body of the Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet cars like there was with the Chevies and Dodges of the 1970s.
But NASCAR's CEO Brian France says the car is ultimately all about the drive.
BRIAN FRANCE: The goals are simple. We want to see the closest competition that is possible.
TOMSIC: How the new car can lead to better competition involves aerodynamics and it's a little technical. Basically, it's designed so that air rushing over it creates more downward pressure, which gives the car better grip. The idea is that will give drivers more control and lead to aggressive racing. Here's how France says he'll decide if the new car is successful.
FRANCE: We'll measure it by lead changes, we'll measure it by how it races, we'll measure it by how the drivers feel about it.
TOMSIC: So far, NASCAR teams have been impressed. Drivers have been testing the new cars at Daytona Beach. Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he think it will revolutionize NASCAR.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I think that the car has really awesome potential and I like it already leaps and bounds beyond the old car we ran.
TOMSIC: The change was meant to create excitement for a sport that's still recovering from the recession. Some of NASCAR's big-name sponsors have been cutting back or leaving the sport, as Dodge did before this season. And attendance has dropped dramatically at some of the premiere racetracks, down 20 percent at Bristol and more than 40 percent at Talladega compared to five years ago.
Nate Ryan covers the sport for USA Today. He says racing teams and fans have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the way the new car looks.
NATE RYAN: But until the car actually gets on track and we see it race at these mile-and-a-half speedways where it's been difficult to have the on-track passing and action and lead changes that NASCAR likes, it's really going to be difficult to evaluate.
TOMSIC: That type of action is what fans are waiting to see too, and it may be one of the keys to getting more of them in the stands, starting at the season opener today in Daytona Beach. For NPR News, I'm Michael Tomsic in Charlotte.
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