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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

What’s The Call? Car of Tomorrow?

Welcome to this week’s edition of What’s the Call? Each week, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s big controversies. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!

This Week’s Question: In light of recent concerns by teams in the garage area, is NASCAR moving forward too fast with the Car of Tomorrow (CoT)?

Today’s Not Soon Enough For The Car of Tomorrow

The sooner NASCAR gets the much-heralded CoT on the track, in race trim, the better. There is no justifiable reason to stall the arrival of the CoT beyond the schedule that the sanctioning body’s Research and Development group has recommended. If the CoT scratches even half the itches NASCAR claims it will scratch, we need it as soon as possible. The car is purported to be safer, it enhances racing by increasing the ability of drivers to pass, and it saves race teams loads of money in the long run. All of these are needed improvements to stock car racing, improvements that should happen sooner rather than later.

NASCAR has developed this new car after five years of research and development with not only their own expertise to rely on, but input from present Nextel Cup teams, manufacturers and parts vendors. The first prototype of the CoT was taken to the wind tunnel for aero analysis almost two and a half years ago. Since then, countless testing sessions have been completed, with data from each test analyzed and areas of concern retested. Despite calls to the contrary, this is not just some knee-jerk reaction from NASCAR… but a well thought out move to improve the sport.

The reasoning for the bigger and boxier cars is sound from an engineering point of view. The cars will be less aerodynamically sensitive, and allow drivers to actually pass racecars ahead of them without the dreaded “aero push” that now prevails at so many tracks. The cars have become slicker and slicker in design, creating a situation for some very boring racing.

Ryan Newman, an early critic of the CoT, probably summed up the looks vs. racing debate as well as any after actually testing the car in traffic when he said, “It’s aesthetically not pleasing to me. But that’s not the point. It’s all about the racing.” Of course, it should be pointed out that “Flyin’ Ryan” is also the holder of an engineering degree from Purdue University. That’s no dummy you’re talking to.

Chase contender Jeff Burton also drove the CoT in test sessions and had a preformed opinion of the car, as so many seem to have. But, like Newman, his opinion changed. Burton said, “I wasn’t a wing guy. But I like the adjustability of the wing. I think wings will make racing better. The aero push behind the body won’t be as bad, and the loss of aerodynamics to the sides of the body won’t be as bad. I think it will breed a situation where you can pass more, and also run side-by-side more.”

Another complaint often heard is the sheer expense involved to teams that will be building cars that fit both existing templates and that of the CoT for the next two years as the new car is phased in. Well, the initial additional expenses are unavoidable… but they will be recouped in time. The scheduled CoT introduction consists of 16 races in 2007 and 26 events in 2008 before a complete switch to the CoT in 2009. This two-year plan will afford teams an opportunity to exhaust their present inventory of parts over time instead of all at once.

The COT holds the promise of drastically reducing team expenses in the very expensive task of fabricating bodies and chassis that are track specific. Gone will be the need to build short track, superspeedway, road-course and intermediate track racecars. The COT will be raced at all tracks with only small and cost effective changes. Teams now building upwards of 25 cars a year may now realistically only need four or five cars; this reduced cost of building equipment very well could be the single best break the smaller, poorly-funded teams have ever gotten.

Of course, the single greatest impetus behind NASCAR’s decision to embark on this five year, costly project was SAFETY. And that is what, more than anything else, the CoT is, safer. Stinging from a rash of deaths and injuries, it was clear to NASCAR that more had to be done to protect drivers. So they made the “greenhouse,” or cockpit, area of the car larger, allowing for the driver to be seated more inward from the side of the car and further away from side impacts. The larger area also gives the driver more room to maneuver inside the car and exit the car hastily, if necessary.

Other long overdue enhancements to safety have also been included in the CoT: reinforced roll cages, an enclosed driveshaft and a reengineered exhaust system. All of these are improvements that WILL, at some point in the future, save drivers from unnecessary injury and possibly death.

With these improvements in mind, Kyle Petty may have made the most persuasive argument of all when it comes to the COT. Petty, who lost his own son Adam Petty at Loudon, N.H., in a violent wreck back in 2000, summarized many drivers’ thoughts when he stated simply that, “It’s a change, but the time schedule for safety is never too aggressive, and I think that’s the way you have to look at it.”

What NASCAR is undertaking in the implementation of the new concept in stock car racing is bold and forward thinking. No doubt, the COT will experience criticism as the inevitable “bugs” are worked out of the car over the next couple of years. But as some people fight change and discourage it… not me. If anyone has an idea for making NASCAR racing even more exciting, competitive, and cost friendly to the team owners as well as safer for the drivers, count me in! – Tommy Thompson

NASCAR Needs To Keep Car of Tomorrow For Tomorrow

The CoT is not a bad idea, in theory. NASCAR needs a less aerodynamic car that puts races back in the hands of the driver, and they need a car that slows speeds and promotes side-by-side racing. They also need a safer car. The CoT is designed to do all of these things… the problem is, it isn’t ready yet.

Slated to race 16 times in 2007, the CoT is called an eyesore by fans, and several even less savory things by race teams. Following a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway early last week, a t-shirt circulated through the garage at Martinsville this weekend that simply sported the letters CoT with a red circle and slash over it – the universal symbol for “no.”

Was this the work of the same fans who have made creative anti-driver couture in the past? Hardly. The shirts originated in the Nextel Cup garage… by a team clearly fed up with the equipment being forced upon them. NASCAR needs to take the teams’ concerns seriously; no matter how many hours NASCAR’s research and development engineers spent on the CoT, the teams will spend much more time on it in the long run. They work on the cars… they know when things don’t look right.

What they know this time is that the CoT is a far cry from what it was envisioned to be. It’s hard to fix – and with a points system where two or three finishing positions could decide a championship, that’s a real concern. Front-end damage will be a nightmare for teams rushing to get a car back on track sooner. The rear wing – to be issued to teams each week by NASCAR in the manner of restrictor plates – will be even worse. If that’s mangled or torn off, how will teams replace it? Surely, the sanctioning body will not allow them back on track without the wing… so if it’s destroyed, is that team done for the day? That does not dovetail with the Chase system in the least. “If you hit the wall like Mark Martin did [during last Friday’s Martinsville practice] the complete body has to come off of it because of the way the templates are all integrated,” Berrier said. “It’s not like you can roll it into the fab shop and get it back by lunchtime and have a side on it.”

According to some, including Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson, the COT is also more aerodynamically dependent than originally intended. In that case, what’s the difference? Why not keep working in the thing, get it right, and then (and only then) force teams to spend the money to build it? NASCAR has repeatedly said that the COT will cut costs, but that simply isn’t happening. Ray Evernham has voiced the fear of others too afraid to speak – he claims the COT will simply put many smaller teams out of business.

One thing to note, the car is safer than its Car of the Immediate Past counterparts – and that’s good thing. However, surely NASCAR can incorporate the safety into a car that does all the other things the CoT is supposed to – and looks like a stock car on top of it. Remember the front spoilers on the big upright square cars of the 1980s? They worked, and the cars looked like their showroom counterparts. There has to be a way to do that again in a high-tech world.

Still don’t believe me? Doug Yates, who has been a fixture in the Cup garage almost since the days of that front spoiler, said of the CoT, “It’s a step backwards as far as technology.” Continued Yates, whose organization only recently built a car, “We’re all here for safety and a good competitive race, but some of what they’re doing is a step backwards.”

Penske Racing South president Don Miller agrees. “There’s nothing on the Car of Tomorrow that we couldn’t have done to the cars now,” Miller says, adding that the CoT is “butt ugly” to boot.

Driver Kenny Wallace has yet to drive a CoT, but he notes that it look like “a cereal box on wheels.”

Greg Zipadelli, crew chief for Tony Stewart‘s No. 20 Nextel Cup team, said, “All it’s doing is stressing people out. Yeah, you can look at the big picture. Will it be better? Will it be safer? That’s stuff you look at, and hopefully all of your work and effort, that’s what becomes of it.”

Evernham offers another, most important concern: NASCAR has yet to finalize a new inspection procedure for the CoT. That’s just another thing that will drive small teams out of Cup – long drawn-out inspections will keep them from having enough practice time because the point leaders go through inspection first. “If we bring that car without having the entire inspection process sorted out, it’s going to be a zoo like we’ve never seen before,” Evernham said. “I’m more concerned that they have consistency in their inspection, because we’ve spent a lot of money to get ready to do this.”

Morgan-McClure Motorsports co-owner Larry McClure agrees with Evernham; and as a small team, he’s concerned about what the CoT does to his program. “Where [larger teams] get the cars built and make them better, we’ll just be building cars,” he said; then feigned optimism by claiming, “We’ve just got to work harder and smarter than they do.” One could argue that they already have to – which could mean they will never catch up.

Sure, the CoT is a good idea, in theory. Problem is, it’s too soon to make it the Car of Today. NASCAR needs to listen to the teams who build, work on, and drive the cars. They even need to listen to the fans who are concerned about the manufacturer identity that they have been loyal to for so long. The CoT needs to stay tomorrow – at least for now. – Amy Henderson

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