The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off : The Meeting Of The Morons ... Er, Minds by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday June 19, 2008

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The bozos that make up NASCAR’s front office have many faults, but the most glaring of them is thinking their fan base is made up of easily swayed morons. Led by the chief clown Brian France and his less than hilarious sidekick Señor Helton, the organization clings desperately to a party line that, somehow or another, thinks they can market a turd as a candy bar while braindead fans will be two-fisting them in no time, singing their praises along the way.

Well, the obvious source of my irritation (this week) is a closed door meeting NASCAR officials had with drivers and team owners last Friday, shortly before practice was scheduled to begin at Michigan. Obviously, I wasn’t invited, so I can’t tell you what exactly was said at that meeting. Maybe NASCAR officials previewed their officially endorsed book of racial and sexist jokes that FOX will be marketing for them next season, with a forward by Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond. Having spent time in a garage area where even Catholicism is seen as an aberration worthy of demeaning jokes, I wouldn’t doubt it. But, from what I hear, NASCAR officials had a different agenda.

The general consensus is that Friday’s meeting dealt with NASCAR’s irritation with drivers’ negative comments towards the Car of Tomorrow (AKA the Ugly Mutt cars), the quality of racing this year, and the reluctance of NASCAR officials to address those criticisms. During the meeting, the drivers were reminded that their lofty standard of living depends on the future success of NASCAR, that they have things pretty good based on the standards of the general population these days, and that fans aren’t as lucky in this troubled economy and many of them are staying away in droves due to the price of gas, trepidation over their continued employment, concerns about their rising mortgage payments, and a general malaise that has become a dark shadow over the American consumer and his or her willingness to spend money during a time where our economy seems to be on a express train to Hell. It doesn’t matter if you look at the prices on the stock market or prices in the grocery market, at the unemployment rate or the unenjoyment rate at many of this year’s so called races — right now, committing the considerable financial resources to attend a NASCAR event is a tough sell even for many longtime fans.

NASCAR’s brass delivered a strong message to its drivers at Michigan on Friday — shut up and race.

A lot of these issues are beyond NASCAR’s control. Mike Helton can’t control the price of gas. Brian France can’t end the mortgage crises. John Darby can’t wish away the devastation in the Midwest, which will undoubtedly raise prices at the grocery store after the recent floods have destroyed crops. And not even Big Bill the Original could convince the current administration that an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq is sending too much of hard working people’s tax dollars overseas in a time where we need to be investing on Main Street — not in Baghdad.

Yet, faced with the above, NASCAR seems to think that if drivers would be a little more upbeat in their comments on the new race car, the quality of racing, or the Chase, everything would be better. I think not. I think the diehard fans that support this sport may let their favorite drivers sway their decisions on which spray paint, energy drink, home improvement products, or candy to buy. Those drivers’ affiliations might even sway more crucial decisions, such as what beer to stock in the fridge. (Though it’s notable that Bud isn’t on the ropes after the departure of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. himself). NASCAR officials regularly publish inflated figures as to stock car racing fans’ fanatical loyalty towards its sponsors; but looking from the outside in, I have seen that loyalty diminish over the last decade. I don’t see more race fans at the corner Sunoco because it is the official race fuel of NASCAR; I see folks searching for the lowest priced gas they can find. I don’t see more fans selecting Goodyear tires for ma’s ride; I see them looking at the sales ads and searching for the best bargain. Increasingly, I am seeing fans arrive at races in Hondas and Hyundais, having selected the cheapest new car they can find that will reward them with longterm reliability and good gas mileage. A new car is the second highest investment most of us will commit to, next to the roof over our head, and it’s too important an investment to make based on what Junior, Carl, Kyle or Kasey races. Speaking on a personal level as a race fan with a neat job, I can tell you that I started drinking Coors Light because I like the taste of the stuff — not because my hero Bill Elliott ran under that banner. And as much as I pulled for Bill back in my pre-writing days, the fact my ’89 T-Bird blew a head gasket with less than 50,000 miles on the clock — and Ford basically told me to go pound sand — has soured me on the idea of ever buying a new Ford as primary transportation again, despite my lust for classic muscle car era Mustangs.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand. (You knew I’d arrive here eventually, didn’t you, gentle readers?) I don’t think that even a fan’s favorite driver, whatever driver that might be, telling fans that the new car is great and the racing lately is fabulous (or even thanking them for showing up) is going to convince the average fan that the new car and the quality of racing lately is up to muster. For whatever faults I have as a writer on the topic (and they are myriad, according to some of my critics), the one thing I still pride myself on is never underestimating the intelligence of race fans — for to do so is to leave yourself open to caustic comments by those true fans themselves. Yes, there is a widespread perception that the average race fan is a high school dropout, trailer park dwelling, beer swilling redneck who is waiting for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to tell him which brand of TV dinner to shoplift this week at the local Piggly Wiggly to feed their families. If such fans exist, God bless ‘em all for their loyalty; but in my experience, the vast majority of race fans are hard working guys and gals who are pretty discerning when it comes to the product that fuels their passion and dominates their weekends and free time — stock car racing. They can tell a good race from a bad one without being told by their favorite driver if it was an exciting event, and they resent having invested their hard earned, and increasingly rare, discretionary income to attend a boring race. I pity the fools who have to sell race tickets to the September race at Dover as a result.

It’s interesting at that the start of this season our friend Brian France introduced a new period of glasnost to the sport, saying he wanted the drivers to speak their minds more freely and show their personalities. Now, four months later, he’s telling them candor is OK, as long their comments toe the company line. Yeah, my guess is if you’re strapped in a stock car driving close to 200 MPH in close company, every race is quite exciting. The problem is, the drivers are getting paid to be there. The fans are paying to be there. Judging by the empty seats at Dover, Pocono, and Michigan over the last few weeks, less and less fans are willing to make the financial commitment to do so, and that heralds a growing crisis in the sport.

Truth be told, I never went to business school. The closest I ever got was idling at the curb in a Grabber Blue 70 Boss 302 waiting for a girl I was seeing to get out of class. But I’ve been told the classic business model is this; the first generation invents, the second generation improves, and the third generation destroys a once noble enterprise. If that’s the case, NASCAR may be well on their way to becoming a classic case in textbooks at Wharton. The challenges our sport faces today are very real and approaching crisis level. Trying to wish them away by making sure the drivers don’t dare mention the negatives is like trying to cure cancer by avoiding a visit to the doctor’s for diagnosis.

We all grew up hearing the story of those three little monkeys; “hear no evil,” “speak no evil,” and “see no evil.” But the amount of monkey business in this sport recently is out of hand, and if Brian France could hear the evil things fans write to me about his new car, he’d probably be working real hard on getting that NFL franchise in L.A. off the ground.

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Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots
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Douglas
06/19/2008 07:44 AM
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Dang your good! No! I mean your GREAT! What a fantastic summation of the “STATE OF THE SPORT”!!

Monday, I sent a letter to Mr. Roger Curtis, President of MIS!

In kind of a summary fashion, what I stated was: first, the attendance at MIS was about half of what it was in the past years! half of 180,000 or so being some 90,000 that actually showed.

From Friday thru Sunday, in my little world of friends and family, I would be responsible for taking some 15 or 20 people to the track to watch ARCA on Friday, Cup qualifying, then practice and whatever races on Saturday, and then some smaller group to the Sunday event!

NOT THIS YEAR!

I drove ALONE over to the ARCA race Friday evening, which was rained out. I timed it so I WOULD NOT ENTER THE TRACK while the cup cars were “qualifying”! And of course thank the Lord this was rained out also. I simply cannot stand the sight of the CoT and everything it stands for.

Normally on a Friday at MIS I would load up the van, and even a second car, and take a bunch of “newbies” to the track just to introduce them to the sport and the speed! NOT THIS YEAR!

I also stated to Roger Curtis that yes, the economy has an impact on attendance at the races this year! BUT!

If, and specifically in my case, I thought that by driving to the track, and buying the high priced gasoline to get there, that if I WAS TO EXPECT GREAT SIDE BY SIDE RACING! I would spend that money in a heartbeat!

but why would the average fan, me! Spend my valuable dollars to watch a NON-RACE! As put on by the STUPID LOOKING AND DRIVING CoT?

So, in my little world as an example, MIS and it’s vendors lost out on some $800+ this past weekend!

Why? May you ask!

1. The very sick CoT!

2. The very arrogance of NA$CAR!

3. The overall “DUMBING” of the sport by Dear Old Brian France & Company!

4. NA$CAR treats it’s average fan like we are DUMMIES!

NA$CAR!! We are not dummies, and we will not buy the poor product you are now placing on the track! If you want to run a “CoT DEVELOPMENTAL SERIES”, then please do so in another series! Don’t charge me $100+/ticket to watch you develop a new car!

Ed
06/19/2008 08:35 AM
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After Matt and Douglas, there’s little that I can add. King Brian the Lesser is stupid enough to believe that he can go to the drivers and tell them those things with us, the fans, listening and think that we really didn’t hear him. Obviously, he thinks we are as dumb as he is.

chase
06/19/2008 09:50 AM
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Matt and Doug: Well said! Even a semi-NASCAR fan can SEE that the racing in the COT is NOT what it used to be – the excitement either live in person or via TV is completely gone.Brian F. had best ‘clean up his act’ – in more ways than one – if that’s even possible. Let’s have REAL racing again!

chris
06/19/2008 10:44 AM
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I still think the races have been better this year than they were with the old car. Better… not Equal, or Close.

That being said, the new car does (and I think will) get better. Especially when Goodyear figures out how to engineer a decent tire to go with it. I understand these things take time…

I think that the “shut up and drive” meeting was absolutely heavy handed. There had to be a better way to handle (umm…almost everything) than the way they typically do.

But, the drivers have been whining like spoiled baseball players for the entire season about whatever happens to come to mind. It’s too Hot? please.

Telling your engineers back in the shop “I need some better cooling in the cabin”. Fine. Whining to the media (Vickers) that NASCAR needs to come save me from the eeevil Pennsylvania summer (or, late spring…) just makes him sound stupid/lazy/whiny (take your pick).

There’s a lot of space between “Nascar, my job driving a car a couple days a week is too hard!” whining and “everything is perfect with dasies and puppies and flowers”.

Drivers being honest about their car’s performance, relative to their peers…fine. Even if it’s negative. Fine. Ryan Newman: “we were really out to lunch, and our car was junk.”. No problem. “Nascar needs to fix my car cause we can’t go as fast as the 99” = whining.

Now, what Helton and the other talking heads actually said may have been stupid/heavy handed…but they weren’t entirely wrong in their assessment, either.

Kevin in SoCal
06/19/2008 12:34 PM
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I agree with Chris. I dont think you can ever design a vehicle that will react predictably when surrounded by other cars all going 150+ MPH. Not even the low-profile areo-shape of the Indy cars is immune to the effects of wind resistance at that speed. NASCAR designed this car with safety in mind first, and then they put a lock on it to try to keep the teams with money from outspending everyone else in R&D. You can call me a kool-aid drinker, but I see nothing wrong with the way the new car looks, even if the wing by itself is hideous. And why does the front splitter work so well in the truck series but not in the cup series?

Douglas
06/19/2008 02:18 PM
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Hey Chris!! Information re: Heat in the car!

NA$CAR, in it’s wisdom, or in this case lack-there-of, made significant changes to the exhaust systems as used in the (very sick) CoT! If you remember, real early on, the insulation that NA$CAR MANDATED, simply caught fire, and created severe fumes during the race! All insulation systems, and all routing of the exhaust is DICTATED BY NA$CAR! The teams cannot change ANYTHING to help eliminate the heat inside the cockpit!

Now, just remember, NA$CAR has an unlimited budget to test and develop new cars, but they dumped this un-proven and virtually un-tested car on the track and said: “drivers, here is your new car”!

Now NA$CAR, instead of fixing the car, or allowing changes to the car, are just saying to the drivers “SHUT UP”!

Nice reaction to the problems the inept group called NA$CAR created!

sparxmoore
06/19/2008 03:26 PM
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EXCELLENT article …100 % agree with everything ya said …but of course you know ….yer gonna get labeled as a WHINER now because you are informing us ignorant race fans of the problems with king brians mentality ! Better call ahead to make sure yer press pass is still valid for SONOMA!!

mindcrime
06/19/2008 03:30 PM
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“if Brian France could hear the evil things fans write to me about his new car”

First he would have to pull his head out of his ass. It’s very hard to hear that way. But then I doubt he surfs NASCAR websites where fans divulge their true feelings on all topics to see how we all feel. He would have to care enough to do that.

D. Love
06/19/2008 03:47 PM
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na$car convinced all of us that we loved “the chase” and now we all will love the cot. Media (with exceptions) is always the first to nod their collective heads in agreement! Who cares about the fans or drivers???

C in VA
06/19/2008 04:50 PM
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Very good article. This article shows that Matt is a very good writer and not just someone who spews anti-Toyota rants. It surprised me.

chris
06/19/2008 05:26 PM
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Douglas,

The comments that you made: All insulation systems, and all routing of the exhaust is DICTATED BY NA$CAR! The teams cannot change ANYTHING to help eliminate the heat inside the cockpit!

…are actually incorrect. I know the Party Line from the haters is that Nascar won’t let the teams do anything to the cars, but that’s not entirely true.

Kasey Kahne quote from Pocono:
“The guys work hard at the shop to make them as cool as they can underneath the seats and try to keep the exhaust heat away from me. It was hot. I ran some different hoses today to try to blow on my chest and things that I do when it’s hot.”

…so, obviously, they can make changes to help the driver remain cool.

oh…and the whole insulation fire/fumes from last year was partially a result of the teams using a thinner-than-recommended gauge steel for the exhaust. But, Nascar adjusted the designs to compensate by raising the bottom of the foam in the door to get further from the exhaust pipe.

There are always going to be issues with a new piece of technology…the bigger the piece, the more issues to work through. I think that Nascar and the teams have done a pretty remarkable job with the new car, even if I do think they’ve tanked in some other areas.

Joe
06/19/2008 06:12 PM
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Bravo Matt. I was trying to describe the insulation to someone the other day and the best way I could is that it is basically styrofoam in the doors and if you don’t have ice or something in a cooler it becomes a heater when subject to high temps outside. Common sense right? I think the CoT has potential, but NASCAR has to give the teams more latitude to massage the motors and the shock and spring packages. Hell, go back to bias plys, and recreate the door to door racing of the mid 80’s, DO SOMETHING, or we may regard this era of drivers with an asterisk. Is Tony Stewart as good as AJ Foyt? Gordon as Petty or Pearson? We’ll never know. Hell, Gordon has not won much with this CoT if he has won at all. Does this mean he is irrelevant?

Douglas
06/19/2008 06:27 PM
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Hey Chris!

MMMMM, I dare, no make that double dare! ANY TEAM to “enhance” air flow thru the interior of the car!

There would be no way to do so whereas NA$CAR in all it’s (missing) intelligence would approve an in car air system based on the probability it would give a car an “AERO ADVANTAGE”!

Witness the “missing & loose” oil tank covers!

NA$CAR was concerned that these “missing/loose” covers were “allowing” extra airflow in the cockpit!

Oh, sure, NA$CAR says do what you can! But in reality, that ain’t much!

I stand by my statement that the design and configuration of the exhaust system is DICTATED by NA$CAR! As is the “allowed” insulation!

The exhaust system on the CoT runs differently than the old car and is not insulated properly, per NA$CAR! Thus dumping lots of hot air (gee how appropriate talking about NA$CAR & hot air in the very same sentence)directly into a “closed” cockpit!

Gee, did I just take a firm stand on this issue?

Anyway, appreciate the thoughts, kinda fun writing about this stuff!

BUT!! Once again this ugly point rises once again to the surface: WHY WOULD I, OR ANY OTHER FAN OF THE SPORT, PAY $100+/TICKET TO WATCH A CAR BEING DEVELOPED?

At the rate NA$CAR is going, the CoT might, just might, be truly raceable in say, five (5) years!

Meanwhile, we buy tickets to see a developmental series!

And thus support Brian’s arrogance!

SallyB
06/19/2008 10:09 PM
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Nascar supposedly told the drivers that, if they have issues with the car, they should talk to Nascar instead of the media. Yet, when confronted by the drivers with their concerns, Nascar has said time and time again, ‘We aren’t going to make any changes’. Nascar spent what, seven years ‘designing’ this car? They bring it to the track, don’t allow teams to do much testing, then lock them into a box that allows little or no adapting.

Then they insult the fan’s intelligence on top of it! Lovely.

chris
06/20/2008 12:32 AM
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WHY WOULD I, OR ANY OTHER FAN OF THE SPORT, PAY $100+/TICKET TO WATCH A CAR BEING DEVELOPED?”

…show me a racing series where the car isn’t still being developed? In most series, Nascar probably being the least offensive in that regard, the development of the technology is the primary purpose. F1. IndyCar. Daytona Prototypes. Lemans Series. V8 Supercars.

Actually, the only series that typically don’t have cars in a constant state of development are feeder/training series. Star Mazda. F1’s feeder. Legends cars. Late Models, Modifieds. There’s alot they can change from race to race, but the “sandbox” is very stable.

So…I’d say that any racing series worth paying $100/ticket for is almost certainly going to have the car “being developed”

As far as the airflow through the car, sure…they have to have rules about the entry and exit points of the air, otherwise teams would be all over the place engineering undercarriage aerodynamics like F1…and you’d have 3400 pound cars getting sideways and taking off like an airplane like Dario Franchitti’s Indycar did last year at Milwaukee. When the downforce turns into lift, it’s all bad. But, it’s not where the air comes in and out of the cabin that matters…it’s what you do with it. I guarantee you that the 83 team and the 11 team (the heat whiners) chose, to some extent, to ignore the driver’s comfort level in order to direct the (allowed) airflow in a way that they felt would generate the best performance. Also, they’re allowed a couple electric fans (of some sort, I don’t know the details) that not all of the teams put in the cars.

The 9 team did not do that, and I’m sure many of the other teams used the airflow they’re allowed to keep the driver more comfortable.

The Regulations on where the exhaust is piped is structured, but it is not fixed. The teams are allowed a certain amount of leeway in how it is constructed and placed.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to hold Nascar responsible for teams that do not take advantage of the tools they are allowed to use.

There’s plenty to pick on the Nascar executives for. The meeting on friday, and how ham-fisted that was. Their handling of the Nationwide series (which, if their objective is to destroy it, is going quite well)
TV Scheduling. The yearly schedule layout itself. Testing. Not having dedicated, paid safety crews traveling with the series. Franchising vs. Independent Contractors. Somewhat random rules enforcement.

Take your pick, but (in my opinion) railing about the CoT a bizzare choice.

l taylor
06/20/2008 08:29 AM
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A lot of you guys who feel that racing was better with the old car seem to forget that the car of yesterday only came along after Ford was allowed to turn a Taurus into a coupe. Anyone remember when? 1997. For all of you guys “old school racing” has been going on for 10 years. Give me a break. Prior to that the teams had to utilize stock body parts, hoods rear decks, etc. When Nascar let the taurus be raced is when the evelotion to the car that feel was so great began. I got news for you- this style of car was why the dreaded aero-push came into being not to mention a decided edge to whoever had the most money for wind tunnel time. Still there were some fantastic races along with some real snoozers. I had the pleasure of attending a Daytona 500 where there were 2-yes 2changes for the lead. The race was started by Dale Jarrett on pole and ended with D J in the lead. How exciting! And this with the great COY!

How about instead of carping about Nascar taking away the CoY we carp about them taking away the track where aero is not so crucial.

In my opinion one of the reasons that Nascar is not as much fun is the lack of variety of the new tracks. It feels like we’re watching half of the races on the same track. Gone are Wilkeboro and Rockingham, other tracks have lost dates to the cookie cutter tri-ovals. some of these tracks, Fontana and Chicago jump to mind, Have never been conducive to good racing. I prefer a track where the aerodynamics are not so important.

The COT is not perfect but will get better. I do believe in the long run the thing will keep some drivers from being hurt and will race better than it does now. That being said it would be great if Nascar would give the guys a little more leeway in some areas.

Douglas
06/20/2008 08:54 AM
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Hey Chris, in our continuing saga of the CoT!

Need I remind you that the IRL DEVELOPED A TOTALLY NEW CAR, and right out of the box it was a fine handling race car with infinite adjustment ability!

The IRL did it’s homework, spent the money, and provided their drivers a safer car but one that also “races” well!

NA$CAR has MUCH more money to spend then the IRL did!

So my question once again is: WHY DO WE HAVE THE ILL HANDLING, AND POORLY DESIGNED CoT on the track, each and every track?

Is it because NA$CAR did not spend the money to fully develop this car? Was Brian just too cheap!

Or does Brian simply not care?

And in closing, thank you very much Sally B! Right on!

What is is it NA$CAR?? Tell us in private? (when you take no actions) Or tell it publicly, (where now you tell us to shut up?)!

Whichever way you, NA$CAR want to spin it! IT IS WRONG!

chris
06/20/2008 09:59 AM
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Douglas, :)

I actually agree with the majority of what you’re saying. (at least, the most recent post!)

The IRL car (at least, the Dallara chassis) is a pretty good little race car. I’d say that Dallara did a better job engineering it, but they also had a much easier job.

A 1300 pound car, with what, 20+ inch wide tires…it’s just not hard to make that handle well. I am not an engineer, so when I say not hard I mean relative to a stock car, not relative to say, “cooking pop tarts”.

Pretty much all of the perceived CoT issues (Ill handling) might be resolved by the teams getting a handle on what adjustments to make when. Right now, they’re guessing. It will take them the majority of this year, at least, just to get a “book” of actual data large enough to determine if the car is, in fact, ill handling…or if they just were doing it wrong.

If you want to lower the difficulty of the car’s setup (and at some point, this may be what they want to do) just make the tires 2 inches wider (and remove the bump stops, and remove the spring rate limitations and gear rules) :)

Mike
06/20/2008 02:17 PM
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it’s notable that Bud isn’t on the ropes after the departure of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. himself

Well, if you forget about that whole inBev thing… :)

Mike The Insane One
06/20/2008 09:52 PM
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There’s only one way to describe the COT and the attitude the NASCAR Brass has towards the fans. You can’t polish a turd.

Unless some major changes are made to the chassis, suspension, and steering points, we’re going to continue to have the same races we’ve had since the introduction of the COT. ZZZZZZZZ Oh, sorry, I fell asleep just typing about the COT. It’s that boring.