LAS VEGAS — A daylong rainstorm kept NASCAR's teams mostly confined to their garages Friday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Several drivers felt the rain was also the only thing protecting the track's speed record from the new Gen-6 race car.
Though Denny Hamlin's criticism of the new car drew attention and a hefty fine from NASCAR last week, most drivers think it's too early for any negative judgment about their speedy new rides. In fact, today is the Gen-6's first real chance to show what it has — and the drivers are eager.
"I think as we learn more and more about these cars and what makes them work and drive better, things can only get better as far as the product we put out there every week," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday.
While Hamlin correctly pointed out how many adjustments still must be made to the car, many more drivers seem intrigued by the possibilities and potential in the eye-catching new vehicles. After all, NASCAR and its three manufacturers built the new car largely to improve racing on 1.5-mile intermediate tracks like the tri-oval in Vegas, where Brad Keselowski will start from the pole in today's Kobalt Tools 400.
The first race in the Gen-6 was with restrictor plates at Daytona, a high-banked, 2.5-mile track. Its second outing was at Phoenix on a fairly flat, 1-mile track. While Phoenix featured little passing or side-by-side racing, most drivers seem to think the quality of racing will improve on the intermediate tracks that make up most of their schedule.
"For a new car, I thought last week was a really good debut for it," Tony Stewart said. "I personally think it's off to a great start, and it's got a lot of potential. We had good racing, we had a good finish, and everybody is going to keep learning."
The new cars are lighter and more aero-sensitive, but they're definitely fast: After Danica Patrick and Mark Martin barely missed the track speed records in qualifying for the first two Sprint Cup races, many drivers said they had expected a Vegas record to fall — until the rain did.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, is urging drivers and fans to show a little patience while the teams figure out the cars. He also defended the fine to Hamlin, who furiously stood up to the governing body by vowing to appeal and refusing to pay the fine.
The garage had mixed feelings over Hamlin's stand. While Jeff Burton and other drivers suggested NASCAR had overreacted in fining Hamlin, Keselowski and a few other drivers were more circumspect.
"It's been an interesting story for somebody to challenge that authority," Jeff Gordon said. "That's fine, but at the end of the day, I know whose sandbox I'm playing in. I like the sandbox. I like to play in it, and I want to have the best opportunity to have the most fun in that sandbox. Sometimes while you don't always like it, you have to bite your tongue and just go out there and race."