The Frontstretch: Car of Tomorrow Helps To Provide Parity Today by Vito Pugliese -- Monday February 25, 2008

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Car of Tomorrow Helps To Provide Parity Today

Vito Pugliese · Monday February 25, 2008

 

While many in the media (yours truly included) were raving about Dodge's impressive showing at the Daytona 500, many were looking to this past weekend's Auto Club 500 in Fontana, California as the true test of how the Car of Tomorrow would perform this season. The 1.5+ mile "downforce" tracks make up the bulk of NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, and over the last several years — with the previous iteration of stock car — aerodynamics, not handling, were the key to how a driver would finish. But with the new machine, its common template, and non-offset body, much of any aero-ingenuity has been engineered out of the cars, making mechanical grip the moving target for which teams will take aim at.

A look through the finishing order following the conclusion of Monday's event reveals another welcome reality of the new car: parity. While parity in other sports makes for poor competition and a perceived weak product, it is a wellspring of publicity for auto racing. There was a time when fans cheered for their preferred make of car as much as they did their favorite driver. While the rabid following may not be what it once was, it is still a component to promoting this sport and keeping fans — particularly the core fans — interested in what many say is beginning to resemble a spec-racer series.

Like it or not, these CoT models — like Dave Blaney’s No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota — appear to be here to stay.

The box score will show that Carl Edwards won the race, but the late race tussle between the two was actually a pretty good battle. Edwards waiving the Blue Oval flag to Johnson's Bow Tie banner was a traditional and fitting end to the first race on a high-banked unrestricted track with the new car; Chevy versus Ford, Roush versus Hendrick. The finally tally of Top-10 machines from California shows two Fords, two Dodges, two Toyotas, and four Chevrolets.

Compare that to 2007, where seven Chevrolets finished in the first nine positions.

So, it was also important to show that there is still some room to work with these cars if you're suffering in one area or another. The bodies are all similar, but the real speed comes from what sits under the fenders, not just between them. Many raised concern last week at Daytona when it was reported that following the Gatorade Duels, Toyota's Sprint Cup entries were producing superior power numbers to Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge; up to 30 rear wheel horsepower more, in fact, as they have proven to make in the Craftsman Truck Series. Toyota now has some key engine development personnel on the Cup side, too; chief among them is Mark Cronquist, who brings some secrets from the Chevrolet camp to Toyota. Hendrick power is legendary, and the Dodge motors have never hurt for grunt either. Ford engines were thought to be the furthest behind, as they are by far the oldest and most antiquated design of the four car makes. Even so, Carl Edwards' No. 99 Fusion with Roush-Yates power made enough steam to slide past Jimmie Johnson's Hendrick Impala with 12 laps remaining. All this does is further accentuate another old maxim in autoracing that remains true today:

All the power in the world isn't going to help, if you can't get it to the ground.

What we do know is that there are two things that are going to make the difference with this new car: The driver and the setup. Many may argue that most of the "setup" is the result of engineering hours (and dollars) back at the shop. The 7-Post Shaker Rig is held by many to be the Holy Grail for NASCAR, with teams attempting to extract the last hundredth of a second out of the Car of Tomorrow. In fact, Greg Biffle remarked after finishing second at Dover last fall that his set up was taken exclusively from data gleaned from their shaker rig testing. But while this may prove to be true in some instances, the loose nut behind the wheel still has the final say in what direction the tires are pointing, and how far the throttle is open.

That pedal in the middle can still come in handy, too.

Relief may also be at hand for those that held to the fear that Toyota was going to be a monster to deal with come 2008 and beyond. A company with an open book policy and cooperation among all teams, coupled with a racing budget that can sustain the financial demands of Formula 1, and the recipe for disaster had all of the ingredients at hand for what has been an all-American form of racing. Homogenized race cars that are heavily dependent upon engineering and technology to find speed, operating in an even tighter box than with the previous car. Factor in Toyota's aligning with a super-team like Joe Gibbs Racing this season, and many were concerned that Toyota could stand NASCAR on its ear. While that may still happen, they look to be as capable of a team as before — but not the dominant force that some had feared may overrun the sport.

As it has been with virtually any change in NASCAR, the cream always seems to find a way to rise to the top. Edwards' win in his Dish Network Ford Fusion should not come as much of a surprise. Roush-Fenway Racing has a most impressive record at California ever since the series started running here in 1997. From that first event in June of 1997 to 2008, Roush-Fenway Racing has compiled six wins and a total of 22 Top-5 finishes. Old car or new car, Thunderbird, Taurus, or Fusion, Roush cars simply get around that track in a great big hurry. Take a look at the teams in the Top 10: Roush-Fenway, Hendrick, and Gibbs. All familiar teams with familiar faces and names. The same group that finished in the Top 10 this weekend will likely be slugging it out through Homestead for the Championship come mid-November.

The Car of Tomorrow is clearly a work in progress. It is not prefect, and it has a way to go before the teams are able to make them drive more to the drivers liking. The comfort level is not quite there yet; a rule change or two could be coming early this year to help provide some much needed balance and grip. It has been rumored that there may be an extension allowed on the front splitter, in an effort to generate some more downforce to help the cars turn, and offer some more feel and feedback to the driver. While I am not completely sold on the new machine (it's a handful, but at least it's ugly), it has accomplished three very important goals: Improved safety, kept a certain manufacturer in check, and helped to provide parity amongst the four automakers.

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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
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Douglas
02/26/2008 08:33 AM
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PARITY”?? Is that what would make good solid racing? Me thinks not!

And in the case of the CoT, I do not deem this hunk of steel as “parity”!!

In this case it seems that the definition of “parity” is to supply teams a huge and heavy block of metal and tell them to go drive the thing, and by the way SHUT UP ABOUT IT!

IN THIS CASE, “PARITYDOES NOT EQUATERACING”!

And if there was “parity” as you say, why are the muti-car “teams”, still outperforming the “independents”??

Kevin in SoCal
02/26/2008 01:45 PM
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Multi-car teams have money and resources the independants do not have, that’s why. Hendrick, Gibbs, and Roush have tens of millions to spend on R&D, while the Woods, Gordon, and Furniture Row do not. And it will always be that way, unless NASCAR puts in a spending cap.

Sam
02/26/2008 05:35 PM
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I don’t care about parity. The racing was great. When is Ford going to get their new engine and when can they start using it?

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
02/26/2008 06:20 PM
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When I say parity, I mean among the manufacturers. When one make dominates the series, it bennefits no one. Well, except maybe the brand that is winning everything.

Burt
02/26/2008 06:27 PM
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in response to Sam , FORD should be announcing soon , the induction of their new engines for the second race at MICHIGAN.

Chris2
02/26/2008 06:50 PM
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Douglas makes a fair point. NASCAR blew it when they allowed multi-car teams to go more than two cars. I don’t even care for two but I’ll meet you halfway. If, tomorrow, you suddenly were in charge of a whole new sport you’d want it to have integrity as that is what would sell the sport..that every player/contestant would have a shot of winning. You will always have competitors that are better than others, that is only to be expected. When you suddenly allow say, 4 competitors to join all their resourses together..and then another 4 do the same it suddenly changes the landscape of the sport as the multi-competitor teams have suddenly gained a significant advantage over the single competitors. When this happens your new sport loses a bit of its integrity as now you’ve somewhat loaded the dice in favor of the multi-competitors. In the end your sport is not anything like what its design was intended for.

RE-DUNDANT
02/26/2008 07:04 PM
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Chris2 makes an excellent point ; he points to Douglas’s point. POINT BLANK!

Kurt Smith
02/26/2008 08:42 PM
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Just an aside Vito…when the CoT first arrived on the scene last year, Chevy utterly dominated. It was partly because Hendrick and Gibbs were ahead of the curve and Roush was not, but nonetheless it seemed almost as though Chevy helped NASCAR design the thing.

I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but we’re only two races in. We can review again after ten races and see if it holds up. If it does, and the teams and drivers get comfortable with it, maybe it won’t be a bad thing.

Chandra
02/26/2008 09:02 PM
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Yeah, that whole multi-car team theory has really put MWR at the top of the charts.

Hey, if you like to watch average teams, go watch ASA. They drive on crappy tracks and have equally crappy drivers. Also, none of them sees a huge amount of success so that should make them even more appealing to the loser-lovers.

Cup is the top of the sport. It’s not supposed to be easy and everyone won’t be a success. No matter what kind of car they drive.

Chris2
02/26/2008 09:55 PM
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Chandra said: “It’s not supposed to be easy and everyone won’t be a success” And that is correct..now then, show me your top drivers running in a single team format and still succeeding then you may have a point. If you look back even to the mid-90’s a team may have consisted of 20 guys…now, look at some 4-car teams..such as Hendrick are running a payroll of_500 guys. Sure the technology has changed since then so no matter it be a multi-car team or a single car team there would be an increase in employees regardless. The point is as a single car team you are pretty disadvantaged next to a multi-car team. As good as Gordon or Johnson is if you put them in the Furniture Row car they may fare a little better than where they are now but you wouldn’t see them up front. As far as ASA goes you may want to do your homework as there have been numerous Cup stars,(Rusty and Martin come to mind), that after moving from their local tracks to the ASA, from there to the what was the Busch series, then Cup. Nowadays we just wait at the nearest high school bus stop and take every 4th 16 year-old kid and give him a helmet it seems. MWR’s issue doesn’t support your cause either as it is easy to see he started way too big way too fast..too much to get off the ground running in high gear..new cars, new manufacturer,new shop, new employees. Any new business takes a few years to get going in the upward direction. If you recall guys like Hendrick and Roush started out in a smaller scale and added to their success. Its been a successful strategy that MWR should have followed as it would’ve saved him time and money. Your point on everone won’t be a success no matter what kind of car they drive is only partially true…some drivers are just better than others..that part is correct. The car they drive? That part fails. Let me put it this way..say you need to take a test for something and you show up and the professor states that four guys over in this corner can do the test together..and another four over here can work together but you and a few others have to work alone. Who do you think has the advantage? As good a student as you could be would you still think it fair? So even though you have all the same tests,(or cars), it matters more about the help you have available.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
02/27/2008 07:43 AM
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Chevy may have dominated, but look at what tracks they were racing on – short tracks and 1-milers. California is big 2-mile oval that emphasises not only downforce and drag, but horsepower as well. If you’re down on power in the COT, you might be able to make it up through the corners or by driving it. That couldn’t really be said with the old car as much. Unless you’re Matt Kenseth in 2003, then yes, you could.

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