CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR spent almost the entire year developing its 2013 car in hopes the "Gen 6" model will dramatically improve the racing.
After his first test drive last week, NASCAR's most popular driver approved of the car.
"This sport is going to be revolutionized again with this car," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.
That's a ringing endorsement for NASCAR, which stumbled out of the gate with the launch of its 2007 car and never recovered. Drivers were mixed on the "Car of Tomorrow" during its development and the messaging reflected the varying opinions.
When Kyle Busch won the CoT's debut race at Bristol, he panned the car in his victory celebration on live television. He didn't let up in his post-race interviews, likening the car to driving a milk crate, and the car was forever tainted with fans. The CoT was finally retired in last month's season finale.
NASCAR has worked tirelessly this year on orders from chairman Brian France to develop a racier 2013 model, which will officially debut at the season-opening Daytona 500 in February. It has been tested some over the fall, but Charlotte Motor Speedway opened last Tuesday for a two-day session attended by 16 drivers.
Among them was Earnhardt, who won only twice in the CoT after winning 17 times in the "old" car.
"I think the car has really awesome potential, and I like it already leaps and bounds beyond the CoT," he said. "This car really gives me a lot of sensations that are similar to the old car that we ran 10 years ago. The CoT was just frustrating for me. I had good runs and good races in it and I had races where the car drove well, but I never really connected with that car from the very beginning. Just personally, I didn't really like the car for what it was."
NASCAR strived to give the manufacturers brand identity with the 2013 cars in an effort to make them resemble what the automakers are actually selling in the showrooms.
That's important to Earnhardt.
"You'll stand there and you'll see Fords and Toyotas and Chevrolets driving by, and it's great because everything looks different and everything is recognizable," he said. "You don't have to think about the driver and the team itself to associate with the manufacturer. You look at the car to see it instantly. I can appreciate the cars for that fact. I'm not sure a lot of people realize how important that is, having that instant recognition on a manufacturer for our sport and how much more healthier it is for that happening."