If you have been following NASCAR at all during the offseason, the headlines have probably already informed you that Denny Hamlin became a father and that Danica Patrick is dating her Rookie of the Year rival Ricky Stenhouse Jr. You may have also heard mention of the Gen-6 car that NASCAR will debut this year, and while the new car may not be as interesting as Twitter photos of Hamlin's daughter or Danica-Mania, the Gen-6 car will have a far bigger impact in 2013 as far as the action on the track is concerned.
Early feedback has been positive as drivers have praised the cars added downforce and improved handling, but there is still going to be an adjustment period. Just as some drivers benefitted and some suffered when NASCAR made the move to the Car of Tomorrow full time in 2008, certain drivers are going to adapt to the Gen-6 car quicker than others. For fantasy owners, being able to identify the drivers that the new car could help and hurt the most this coming season is a great away to get a leg up on the competition.
Drivers that could benefit
Kyle Busch: In terms of raw talent, there are few drivers that can match what Busch brings behind the wheel. With the Gen-6 car likely to level the playing field while drivers and teams figure things out, a guy like Busch should hit the ground running. Keep in mind that the best year of his career came in the first season with the Car of Tomorrow, when he won eight races and had 17 top-five finishes. The competition caught up to Busch in subsequent years, but there is a good chance he will be one of the first to figure out how to get the most out of the Gen-6 car.
Jeff Gordon: Gordon is an old-school driver when it comes to pit strategy, and he never fully embraced the fuel-only stops and fuel mileage gambles that became a must to win races in the CoT. Track position was king with the CoT, and Gordon often tried to gain it all the hard way by taking four tires and working his way through the field. As a result, his finishes didn't always reflect just how strong of a car he had. Just last season, he ranked in the top four in the series in fastest laps run, green flag speed, speed in traffic and quality passes, but he barely made the Chase. If the Gen-6 car handles as well in traffic as it is supposed to and passing indeed becomes easier, Gordon should be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
Jeff Burton: His fantasy value has been declining sharply, and while his days as a top-10 driver are probably gone, there is reason to believe the Gen-6 car could help him improve on his the dismal numbers from the past two seasons. After all, there is reason Burton has been one of the biggest supporters of the new car, praising the added downforce and grip. Burton and the CoT never really clicked. When he was comfortable behind the wheel, the car was slow. When the car was good on the stopwatch, Burton wasn't comfortable with the handling and couldn't be aggressive. If the new car allows Burton to recapture a combination of comfort and speed, the veteran might still have some solid finishes left in him.
Juan Pablo Montoya: Aside from his impressive 2009 season, Montoya's stock car career has been a disappointment. That being said, his talent as a driver is undeniable, and he is one of the most-decorated open-wheel racers in history. Well, the Gen-6 car is a little bit lighter than the CoT and has more downforce, which should put Montoya more in his comfort zone and play to his open-wheel strengths. I'm not saying that the Gen-6 car is anywhere close to an F1 or IRL car, but after struggling to find a handle on the CoT and managing just two top-10s in 2012, the added grip can only help.
Drivers that could suffer
Brad Keselowski: Don't get me wrong, Keselowski is a talented driver, and he is going to be able to figure out how to win in the Gen-6 car sooner rather than later. That being said, no driver was better at gaining track position through pit strategy last year than Keselowski. Countless times he stayed out or took fuel only and moved from the middle of the pack to the front of the field and stayed there the rest of the race because passing in the CoT was so difficult. If the new car makes it easier to gain positions on the track, Keselowski's preferred plan of attack could become less effective. At the very least, there is a chance Keselowski will have to rethink the way he approaches races, which could result in a bit of a slow start.
Greg Biffle: If you watch Biffle's car exit a turn, you can usually read just about every sponsor on the right side. The guy isn't afraid to drive a loose car, and he is one of the best in the business at sliding a car off a corner. While most drivers can't wait for the added grip the Gen-6 car is expected to bring, Biffle would probably be just fine sticking with CoT. After all, he finished inside the top 10 in points just once in five years prior to the CoT, and he finished seventh or better in the standings in four of the five years with it. The added grip might not necessarily slow Biffle down, but if it helps the competition speed up, Biffle could suffer anyway.
Martin Truex Jr.: Since entering the Cup Series as a two-time Nationwide champ, Truex's career has been marred by inconsistency. He finally put it all together after seven seasons and had a career year in 2012, becoming a reliable top-10 fantasy option. Now, Truex will have to try to repeat his production in a new car. Keep in mind that in his first four seasons with the CoT, he had twice as many DNFs (16) as top-five finishes (8). If his learning curve is anywhere near as steep in the Gen-6 car, Truex could take a sizeable step back in 2013.