Most new construction projects drag on forever. First they're dollars over budget. Then they're going to take three more years and inconvenience everybody within a 50-mile radius. Oh, and it's going to cost more moneyâ€¦
NASCAR went the opposite way with the implementation of the Car of Tomorrow, announcing this week that the new car would run in the Nextel Cup Series full-time in 2008, a year ahead of the original target date. The move has been in the works since the debut of the CoT at Bristol earlier this year, and as each outing went smoothly, became more and more likely. NASCAR's Robin Pemberton confirmed the suspicion, saying, "We are proud of how the new car has performed at multiple tracks. NASCAR, with the support of team owners, agreed that the new car is ready to compete at all NASCAR Nextel Cup Series events in 2008. Beginning next year the Car of Tomorrow is officially ‘the car,’ a Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota."
It was the right move. While some drivers continue to criticize the car, many owners were happy to make the complete transition early. It's costly in both money and manpower to have to change cars from week to week, and harder for teams and drivers to adjust back and forth. For smaller teams, it's an even bigger struggle, and the move to one car levels the playing field, at least somewhat. J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs racing, echoes the ownership sentiment that is prevalent in the Cup garage. "It’s very difficult for teams to run both the Car of Tomorrow and the current car simultaneously. Across the board, most everyone’s feeling in the sport is that we’ve come out of the box and had some good experiences with [the COT], so let’s just implement it full-time in 2008. We’re on board with that, and for us, it makes a lot of sense.”
Some drivers continue to resist the inevitable, but many are beginning to embrace the newer car. Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said at Darlington that the car was ornery and difficult to drive. "And I love it," added a grinning Johnson, who finished third in that race.
Jeff Green also likes the CoT, saying that the car puts more of the racing back in the driver's hands. With the old car, Green says, "either you hit the setup or you miss it. If you miss it, there’s not a lot a driver can do to make up for that. With the COT, even if the setup’s not perfect, a driver can still make things happen and have a good run. It reminds me of the way the cars drove six or seven years ago. I like that, and I’m excited to get back to that. I think it does help level the playing field somewhat for the smaller teams. NASCAR is able to keep a tighter lid on some of the trick things teams can do, and I think that will benefit the teams that don’t have the depth of resources some of the bigger teams have. I see it as a positive move all the way around."
Green hit the nail on the head. Actually, he hit several of them. The CoT and all its restrictions-billed by naysayers as too limiting-actually makes the field tighter, more competitive. As last week's penalties of DEI for having a bolt on the rear wing that allowed for an illegal adjustment to the wing illustrates, the car gives the more "creative" teams a little less to work with. For example, the correct mounting bolts for the wing prevent it from ever being set at an illegal angle, accidentally or otherwise. That would keep a team from having a penalty if the wing were to "settle," and it keeps a team who might chance a tweak in line. Contrary to popular belief, the car DOES have adjustability if it's ill-handling, and there are still “grey areas,” they are just harder to work within, and teams risk huge penalties if they cross the line.
There's nothing wrong with any of that. A few do bring up a valid argument to the rollover-the CoT has yet to be raced on one of the "cookie cutters," the mile-and-a-half clones that dominate much of the Nextel Cup schedule-and that's not scheduled to happen this year. The closest they came was Darlington, which is similar in length but not in speed or configuration. The CoT will make a lone superspeedway run at Talladega this fall, but is not scheduled for anything longer than The Lady in Black or shorter than the behemoth Talladega. While that could pose a problem, if NASCAR allows teams to test at similar tracks this year, it shouldn't be too significant in the long run. The sanctioning body could also lift the ban on buying Goodyears for testing, thus letting teams test at Kentucky Speedway as well as venues like Rockingham. Teams can also be proactive, outfitting the cars with Hoosiers and testing it on their own.
Another concern is the inventory of the current cars that most teams have. It's not as big a deal as many make it out to be-the ARCA teams will come calling and the teams will no doubt pad their pockets by selling those chassis. Like any used car sale, they'll take a loss over the original cost, but it's not the huge burden that some would claim, not by a long shot.
All in all, the complete rollout of the car in 2008 is the best move for the teams and for NASCAR. It's less of a burden, in the long runs on teams, especially on the smaller teams who cannot afford two sets of mechanics week in and week out. It has, so far, produced good racing-the margin of victory in the CoT this year is less than half of the margin with the regular cars, meaning that the move should ultimately benefit the fans too-and that would be the biggest reason of all. It may be ugly, it may be harder to boot a competitor out of the way, but it produces close, exciting finishes, puts driving in the hands of the drivers, and makes the playing field more level for the lower-budget teams. It's also a popular move with many team owners. NASCAR made the right call on this one, and it's easier to navigate than road construction, too.
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