New faces with new teams and new cars were on display during Day 1 of Preseason Thunder at Daytona, but one storyline dominated - the Gen-6 car is sleek and fast.
Defending Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth, with new team Joe Gibbs Racing, was fastest in the first practice with a top speed of 192.757 mph and second-fastest in the afternoon session with a top speed of 195.385 mph. Teammate Denny Hamlin topped the speed chart in the second practice (195.712 mph) in his Gen-6 Toyota Camry.
Following Thursday's afternoon session, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton spoke about how the collective effort of the industry has been key to the Gen-6 car's development.
"We have been working on this car for nearly two years and we have been at the track on and off for well over a year in different stages and forms and configurations of the car," Pemberton said. "Because of the depth of everybody, throughout our entire industry, we were able to take these things and put a long lead time in them and develop a better product."
John Darby, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director, reiterated the positive feelings about the new car, and was particularly impressed with the close competition during Thursday's test.
"When you look at the enormity of the project ... and basically putting three brand-new models of race cars out on a race track ... and put speeds up that are within a tenth of a second of each other - it is an incredible, incredible effort," Darby said. "I truly believe there is not another racing series in the world that could accomplish what these guys did since we left Homestead."
As far as competition goes, the Gen-6 car received high marks. But so too did the look and feel of the Toyota Camry, Chevrolet SS and Ford Fusion as they hit the high banks of the World Center of Racing for the first time in advance The Sprint Unlimited on Feb. 16 (SPEED, MRN Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio) and the 55th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 24 (FOX, MRN Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio).
"Everybody is super excited about this race car and what it brings to our sport and the identity that it brings back to the passenger cars you see on the roads," said Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. "This is my first time I've been in it. I didn't do the Charlotte test so it was fun to get out there and see what it was all about. They're certainly cool looking. [It's great] to see everybody's cars down here and be back to racing."
Carl Edwards hopes to use Preseason Thunder to kick start 2013 after a disappointing 2012 season. Edwards missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup after finishing second in 2011.
"I couldn't be looking forward to it more," Edwards said. "I think it will be an exciting year for me. I would like to put last year out of my memory and not think about it too much. Not in the last few years have I been this excited to go racing. I think it is probably because my offseason has been a little longer than most. I didn't go to Vegas [for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion's Week] so I have been ready to go."
The drivers rounded out Day 1 at Daytona International Speedway with Fan Fest. Fans were treated to driver fan forums, show cars and displays, music and photo opportunities with the 2013 Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 trophy and autograph sessions.
Teams will be back on track for testing tomorrow at 9 a.m. Tomorrow's media availability includes: Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12:05 p.m.; Matt Kenseth 12:20 p.m.; Jimmie Johnson 12:35 p.m.; Greg Biffle 12:45 p.m.