- Associated Press - Sunday, February 17, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car made its long awaited debut, but gave no clear indication of how it will perform in the season-opening Daytona 500.

The car raced for the first time in Saturday night’s exhibition Sprint Unlimited, a race that started with less than half a full field at 19 drivers. That was whittled down to 12 after an early accident eliminated several top names.

With so few cars on the track, it was impossible to get a true sense of what the Daytona 500 will look like next Sunday when a full 43-car field is running the Gen-6 at the same time around Daytona International Speedway.

Jeff Gordon was one of the drivers knocked out in the lap 15 accident, but felt he had more control than he’s had in years past when the two-car tandem put drivers at the mercy of whoever they were working with during a race.

“You as a driver have more responsibility now about how you are going to drive out there because the cars are going to move around a little bit more,” he said. “They are going to get turned around a lot easier, so you can’t be running into one another. You can’t be turning across guys. You have to utilize that handling to your advantage after a longer run. I like that part of it.”

The Gen-6 car was designed to improve the on-track product and to closer resemble the manufacturers’ showroom models. It sports curved front bumpers, smaller rear spoilers and is 160 pounds lighter than the old car. Drivers who did get a chance to race Saturday night will face an entirely different set of circumstances in the 500, when the full field is on the track and the weather conditions are considerably warmer.

“When you get 43 cars out there,” Saturday night runner-up Greg Biffle said, “It’ll be a ton different.”

Sprint Unlimited winner Kevin Harvick and Biffle fully expect pack racing to return at Daytona under those conditions.

“It’s going to be a pack, absolutely,” Harvick said. “I think if you (watch) a 2000 race, one of those races, it’s going to be very similar. You’re going to have a lot more advancing of positions when you get so many cars out there.”

The Gen-6 car has so far produced three multi-car accidents _ one in January testing, one in Friday’s practice for the Sprint Unlimited, and Saturday night’s in the first segment of the race. But Dale Earnhardt Jr., who caused the accident in testing, doesn’t believe the crashing is over and Thursday’s twin qualifying races could be dicey.

“A lot of the guys that weren’t in this race haven’t been in real race conditions with this car yet,” he said. “So half the field still has a lot to learn _ a crash course, you know? I think you are going to see a little bit of the same in the 500. Maybe even in one or two of the qualifiers. The bumpers aren’t perfect. They are imperfect when they line up, and that is going to cause some action and some drama out there.”

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