February 16, 2013

NASCAR Sprint Cup has new cars, new faces and love in the aero package

It was a year ago that the Sprint Cup season started on fire. And Brad Keselowski stayed that way.

It was a year ago that the Sprint Cup season started on fire. And Brad Keselowski stayed that way.

Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet dryer, fuel erupted in flame, Keselowski tweeted a picture from his car, and perhaps history's most memorable Daytona 500 -- delayed by rain, stopped by fire -- sent the 2012 season to a roaring start.

"When that moment happened at Daytona, I just did it," Keselowski said. "I didn't think much about it. I thought it was something different and wanted to take a picture of it and send it out."

Keselowski's timing stayed true all season, as he went on to win his first Sprint Cup title.

Now he is back with a new team in a new car -- Dodge has left the series -- at the same time as NASCAR has unveiled a new competition vehicle.

They're calling it the Gen 6 (because it's the sixth generation of the car NASCAR has used for its top series), and it promises to inject a new level of unpredictability into the Sprint Cup Series, which has had two different champions in two years following Jimmie Johnson's five-year reign.

The drivers like the look of the car. They began practicing in it last week for next weekend's Daytona 500. Keselowski admits the reputation of the series -- which started looking like a parade in the field-equalizing former "Car of Tomorrow" -- depends on the new car's performance and appeal.

"I did not like the way the COT car looked, and I think most of the garage would say that," Keselowski said. "It does matter. It matters because that is the image we portray. I wear a fire suit with a helmet and a full seat around me. You can't see me. What you are seeing is this car going around the racetrack and the sponsors and the car construction, styling, et cetera. So that is what you see as a fan or as an ambassador of the sport.

"Yeah, absolutely it matters."

It certainly starts to matter now.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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