The Frontstretch: The Verdict Is In: NASCAR Scores Big With The CoT by Tommy Thompson -- Wednesday April 9, 2008

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The Verdict Is In: NASCAR Scores Big With The CoT

Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Wednesday April 9, 2008


In the midst of Michael McDowell’s scary wreck came a silver lining; the safety initiatives of the Car of Tomorrow had worked in tandem with the SAFER Barrier to help save his life.

Michael McDowell's terrifying near-head on collision with the SAFER barrier and subsequent barrel-rolling down the track at Texas Motor Speedway Friday was the most serious real-life test yet of NASCAR's new car, known during its developmental period as the Car of Tomorrow (CoT). But the five-year project by NASCAR's Research And Development division had been preparing for just such a moment; after all, their work was primarily prompted by as series of accidents that had kept drivers such as Jerry Nadeau unable to continue their careers while leaving the sport’s biggest star, Dale Earnhardt, dead. NASCAR knew that something had to be done to better protect drivers at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour; and with the advent of some major structural changes, they hoped the car would live up to the challenge the next time an accident occurred.

It did.

With McDowell able to immediately extricate himself from his Michael Waltrip Racing No. 00 Toyota and wave to the crowd after such a horrendous accident, NASCAR has, although still to an unknown level, claimed initial success in improving driver safety for this vehicle. However, though safety was touted as the overriding reason for the investment in both time and money to build a new and revolutionary race car, it was not the only reasoning behind the biggest adjustment to stock cars since 1981. The newly designed CoT was also meant to reduce team costs and create closer competition amongst teams, making an even and exciting playing field for all. And though I do not question that NASCAR was concerned with the safety of its competitors and desired to better protect them from harm, the other two goals the for-profit organization hoped to accomplish proved much more important to their very reason for existence … making money. After all, that’s what it’s about; the fact every other goal for the car was achieved has merely proved to be icing on the cake.

But NASCAR making a profit has never been a problem for me. Money is how a business measures its health and viability, and from all I've seen, NASCAR is plenty healthy; in fact, it’s the most viable motorsports enterprise in the United States. And to stay ahead, you must think ahead. In order to keep their product successful, the sport knew that they needed to develop a car which would bring parity to all manufacturers, all the while attracting other car builders to come on board in order to further diversify their competition. All they needed to accomplish that is give them an equal footing in which to hawk their brand names; for it had become increasingly difficult to govern all the brand-specific modifications to provide a semblance of equality, and the differences and legislation were on the verge of spiraling out of control.

That is why I was CoT before CoT was cool! But I was in the minority. It seemed that during the months leading up to the introduction of the new platform, it became fashionable for many NASCAR pundits to knock the sanctioning body at every turn after the car made its debut at Bristol just over a year ago. What these naysayers refused to acknowledge, however, is that regardless of how smart they believed themselves to be, these people were not matching wits with just Brian France, but a whole committee of pretty smart individuals that could collectively exceed their perceived genius. Plus, my father taught me that only a fool argued with success; and NASCAR certainly has proven that they know how to be successful!

So, I simply trusted that the combined "brain trust" of NASCAR was capable of building a better mousetrap than a sportswriter could conceive of. And they did. After seven races of the 2008 season, it appears every change for the CoT has borne fruit; all four manufacturers have been given an opportunity to proclaim themselves No. 1 from Victory Lane, and the battle for the championship is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in years. As long as Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota are able to be a part of that, they will be satisfied and continue to contribute to NASCAR's coffers.

But from the beginning of the project, I was cognizant that critics of the new concept would be plentiful, consisting largely of groups that, in my estimation, just love to hate NASCAR. I listened to their complaints with open arms; but, quite honestly, I never found substance in their refusal to accept the new car.

The most popular battlecry of the anti-CoT legions from Day One has simply been that, “These people are turning NASCAR into IROC." But why is that a bad thing? Heck, in theory I had always liked IROC; they just needed more equally prepared cars and about 30 mph more speed. The idea of drivers battling one another in relatively equal equipment always seemed like a good idea, and a sure bet to create some close, side-by-side racing.

Others have griped they don't like the cars because they’re too generic in appearance. Well, that ship had already sailed. The backend of a Camry or Impala when driving down Interstate 10 is very difficult to differentiate between in real life, anyways. In fact, the auto manufacturers are to blame for the commonality of appearance of their vehicles nowadays… not NASCAR. I, too, miss the diversity in body styles of yesteryear; but those days are gone, and we’ll survive without them just fine.

In the meantime, what the common template is doing, and will increasingly do, is allow for the gap between the wealthy and semi-wealthy teams to narrow. And, of course, that is why NASCAR has been so aggressive with fines and penalties when anyone monkeys around in areas that they have made clear are off limits to tweaking. It’s because they do not want teams going back to finding aerodynamic advantages on today's cars; the whole purpose of the CoT is to eliminate that advantage, and level off the challenges for everyone involved. It’s been an exceptionally onerous and costly proposition; teams flush with cash had derived great competitive advantages by spending extravagantly on body massages in recent years, and small budget teams simply could not keep up. It was to the point where only three team owners had those kinds of resources to outdo everyone else aerodynamically… and they were taking the fun out of the sport in the process.

Instead, the excitement has returned, while the money has scurried back into the pockets of plenty of car owners. Frankly, I could never understand how anyone could not see the considerable cost savings those men would eventually realize from the car. How can having one car for short tracks, superspeedways, intermediate tracks, and road courses not be more cost efficient than a fleet of specific-purpose built race cars for each of the venues? Certainly, during the phase-in period of last season, there were considerable extra expenses; but in the end, the savings to owners over the next several years as they campaign this one body and chassis design will result in extraordinary savings to teams.

The concept was hard for some to accept; but as time goes on, resistance has subsided as the car continues to prove itself race after race. Fewer and fewer are put off by its boxy appearance, and are able to accept it for what it is… a very fast and much safer Sprint Cup race car.

Yet, in spite of evidence to the contrary, I am almost amused at those that will not give up the ghost and admit that they have misjudged NASCAR's ability to build a better race car. They will not say, "I give;" but instead, in a last gasp effort to not admit they have simply been wrong, they’re pointing out that the cars are more difficult to drive. Who cares? They clearly are drivable, fast and safe. If they were easy to drive, we wouldn't need skilled race car drivers on Sundays. Carl Edwards recently said so himself after winning for the third time this season at Texas Motor Speedway:

“I've heard people say that the races are boring, and people always want something to complain about - if it's too hard to drive, you don't get enough side-by-side racing,” he said. “The fact is, these are the 43 best drivers in the world. The cars have 900 horsepower and go 200 miles an hour, and the track is slippery and the tires are slippery, and that's a spectacle - and that's what it's supposed to be. It's not supposed to be easy; it's not supposed to be driving down the interstate.”

“I'm tired of hearing people complain, the media make up stories about how terrible it is and stuff - this is auto racing. There are going to be people that are faster. We're going to have days when we can't keep up because the car is too hard to drive. Somebody's going to win. That's racing.”

And so it should be. Besides, the next time a driver makes a statement about cars being a “handful to drive,” I would like a further explanation as to just what that means, exactly. Is it hard to handle in the sense that a World of Outlaws Sprint Car is a “handful,” or is it a "handful" in comparison to the car it replaced? Yeah, I already know what the answer is; but when you say it, my reply is simply, “Boo Hoo!”

So, as far as I'm concerned, McDowell’s successful emergence from his wreck proved the final stamp on a positive verdict for the new car. It’s so far, so good in every aspect; and common sense dictates that things will only get better as time passes. But even if this car had never saved team owners a nickel, and even if the competition between the haves and the have nots remained as far apart as it has been… when Michael McDowell climbed from his crumpled car and waved to the crowd, I knew that NASCAR had scored big!

And…that's my view from Turn 5.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


©2000 - 2008 Tommy Thompson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

04/09/2008 08:43 AM

I’m all for SAFETY but don’t tell me this is racing. Basically these are kit cars. Same shocks, same gears, same tires leaves it a same game all the way around. Watch some classic racing from the 70’s, 80’s & 90’s and you will see racing. The races have become boring and there is always a problem whether it is the tires or the gears or the trannies or even the track weeping water. Many of the drivers are children, the mid-aged are cry babies and the old guys are just collecting pay checks. The races don’t even start until the last couple of rounds of pit stops if we are lucky and then there are so many yellows it is too difficult to endure. The COT needs to be faster and handle better and not be a razor blade when it comes to tweaking the suspensions.

04/09/2008 10:50 AM

Tommy , you are the man . Why any of us would dare to question the cot , when you had the real insight all the time . Sorry for ever thinking the cot wasn’t the god send for stock car racing .
The owners haven’t saved as much as you try to lead us to believe . The owners are having to spend huge amounts on very small gains in aero and engine . Witness the restrictor plate engines , suddenly the car owners were having to spend millions on cylinder heads to try to squeeze power out of the engine . They may require fewer cars in the shop now , but the cost to make those cars competitive has actually increased .
And to your point about NASCAR building a better race car , NASCAR builds nothing . The race teams take a design from NASCAR ,( a design that most teams say isn’t very good ) and they constuct the cars to be safe through fabrication technology that they ,the teams have developed . And every NASCAR stock car ever built was built to NASCAR blueprints , the cot is just the latest .
The crash that Michael McDowell had , while certainly a big one , does not even make the top twenty on the list of violent crashes in NASCAR . Without the benifit of the cot , the drivers walked away from such crashes as the Michael Waltrip at Bristol wreck , the Tim Richmond/Dale Earnhardt wreck at Pocono , the Earnhardt wreck at Talladega , Dave Marcis at Pocono , Ricky Rudd and Cale at Daytona . The cars have always been well constucted , but there has always been a desperate need for soft walls and driver restraints to complete the package . And thats what it is , a total package , not just the cot .

True Fan
04/09/2008 12:54 PM

I agree with the above statement about the whole total package deal because at the end of the day it’s all about safety first , competition second and entertainment last. Too bad it took lost lives to get the priorities recognized.Great job reporting Tommy!

04/09/2008 12:58 PM

Doug, these cars are here to stay. The races before the COT were just as bad. I believe its time to change the tracks to progressive banking if you want side by side racing, and no matter what changes NASCAR would make to the car or changes a track would do, your still not going to get racing during the middle of the race. Only giving out points for every lap would change that.

04/09/2008 01:24 PM

Back in the day when Nascar switched from racing real stockcars to the modern era cars ,we all said the same thing that everyone is saying about the COT.At least the cars in those days had the basic body shapes of the ones we drove on the street. As with the old car we will begin to get used to the COT and the racing will get better as these teams learn more about tuning the suspensions. We all have to live with it. If you love NASCAR racing, this is what we got, so grin and bear it. OR?? STOP WATCHING THE RACES!!!!

Master Braytak
04/09/2008 05:55 PM

Since the “stock” has completely been taken out of Nascar Racing with the COT and new spec engines I have stopped watching the races. I hang out in the shop getting things done with the “show” on the tv in the background. The lure to me was seeing the same technology on the track as is on the street, even though there seemed to be less and less each year it was still there. The SBII was pretty much the same package as the 350 small block on my engine stand.

Nascar should have made it their goal to get more stock back in the cars instead of going to the kit cars. One other thing they could have done is get the races started at 12:05 pm like they are meant to be. Nothing like turning on the tube at noon, seeing Ned and Benny on the roof of the announcing booth to set the tone, then starting the engines at 12:05.

Ken in Va.
04/09/2008 06:34 PM

You said “That is why I was CoT before CoT was cool! But I was in the minority.” You are still in the minority. Have you noticed all of the empty seats at the “sold out” races. Try as they may, the TV cameras can’t hide them all. What flavor does NA$CAR make their Cool Aid?

I quit watching IROC races before they were stopped and I will probably quit watching NA$ROC races before long. I can watch cars driving nose to tail at my local interstate.

04/09/2008 08:31 PM

Anyone who doesn’t realize what glory days these times are for NASCAR is a friggin moron. Hey, I liked the “Good ‘ole days” with Petty, Pearson and Cale too, but odds were back then that only 3-4 cars were on the lead lap. And the “Stock” cars were gone by the late 60’s. Maybe you Johnny-come-lately’s should do some research before you spout off. Newbies think that the late 90’s were when we had ‘real” racecars. Yeah, there were lots of front-wheel drive, 4 cylinder Taurus’s out there. The C.O.T. will bring better competition, save money in the long run, and save lives. The whining out there is pretty pathetic…

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