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2007 Frontstretch Season Preview: Car of Tomorrow

Loyal Readers,

After an anxious two months of anticipation, the offseason is finally nearing an end! With Daytona testing a distant memory, it’s less than three short weeks before the engines come to life and the 2007 Nextel Cup season hits the ground running.

Before the cars take off, though, it’s time to take a look at the issues that’ll make a difference in what’s bound to be one of the most important years for the sport in recent history. With anything from talented rookies to Toyota’s entrance in the sport making headlines, there’s plenty of issues for the Frontstretch faithful to weigh in on. Be sure to check out this space all this week and next to get our writers’ predictions on what’s bound to be NASCAR’s biggest season yet!

Here’s Today’s Season Preview Topic: Will the Car of Tomorrow (CoT) debut at Bristol, be delayed, or completely disappear? When people look back on the 2007 season, what will they have to say about the CoT?

Tom Bowles, Managing Editor: The CoT will debut at Bristol… to the tune of less than 20 cars making the full 500 miles. The new wings will drives teams up the wall (and into them), crew chiefs will be lobbying NASCAR for changes from day one, and we’re bound to see crazy things like Derrike Cope grab a top 10 through attrition by the time this project is all said and done. Unfortunately, the CoT is too far along in the process to just go away, and while some would like it to just fall apart, its timetable is more likely to be pushed up rather than pushed back. Even if it’s a giant flop, too much money has been invested in this project to simply throw it away.

Nikki Krone, Assistant Editor: The CoT will debut on schedule. As is customary with most things, there will be lots of back and forth on it for awhile, but by the end of the season, most will look back on it and realize there was a lot of drama for no reason.

Toni Heffelfinger, Assistant Editor: It will debut at Bristol. Just like every other change NASCAR makes that everyone questions, it is inevitable that they will find a way to make it happen and on time. NASCAR gets enough egg on its face unintentionally as it is, so they always make sure that they do whatever they need to do to try to avoid it being their fault directly. As for what people will say? Depends on how far down the road you are asking about. To my knowledge, no one is saying anything about the last time NASCAR made wholesale changes to their cars, back when they changed from the bigger cars back in the ’80s to the smaller versions of today. Trust me, it was sure a big deal back then… just like the CoT is now.

Kim DeHaven, Public Relations Coordinator: The CoT will debut at Bristol as planned. Looking back, the NASCAR fans will say, “I hate this car! It ruined racing!” but in time they will get used to it and accept it. They will tune in regardless… just like they did after all the complaints about the Chase!

Amy Henderson, Driver Interview Coordinator: Once it’s here, the CoT will be a fact of life – and no matter how bad or good it races, we have to live with it. My biggest concerns are with the durability of the front splitter at tracks like Atlanta and LMS, and the whole restrictor-plate thing. They were supposed to be able to be “dirty” enough to run without them. And I’m sorry, but am I the only one who thinks that draft speeds of 190 mph were a silly reason to CHANGE that thinking? They go faster than that at Atlanta in spots now. 200 might warrant a rethink, 190, not so much. Not having the throttle response with the CoT is more dangerous than the five or so mph they will save by slowing them down more. And they’re funny looking, too.

Becca Gladden, Senior Writer: Despite the current controversy, the CoT will appear at Bristol as planned, and looking back at the season, people will say that it was much ado about nothing.

Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: As far as I know, the debut is still on as planned. However, in my opinion, Bristol is an absolutely ridiculous place to debut this thing. Bristol is, has and always will be a crashfest, and absolutely no aerodynamic information will be gleaned from debuting the CoT there. Of all the tracks on the current circuit, races at Bristol and Martinsville are totally unaffected by the CoT, as those tracks aren’t aerodependent in the first place. Possibly the only useful information to come out of the CoT’s use on these two tracks it to measure how far up into the stands the new wing will fly when it gets knocked off.

As for the fans, what people think of the CoT is a moot point. NASCAR has clearly demonstrated to all involved, owners, drivers and fans alike, that the CoT is the future of NASCAR… take it or leave it.

Mike Neff, Senior Writer: The CoT will not be delayed for Bristol. In talking with members of several teams, most of the teams have had only five or six cars pass technical inspection from NASCAR. Whether they have relaxed their standards or the packages have become better, the cars are now passing, at least.

As far as its impact on the racing itself, the CoT will finally mark the end of the “rolling wreck.” You will no longer see people back a car in the fence, come in, duct tape it up and go back out and turn laps and drop debris on the track. When one of these cars hits the fence, it’s over. The other thing that may end up possibly being remembered, and we pray it is not the case, is that it will be the first time in a long time a fan is injured by flying debris. The wing on the back of the cars is going to be the first thing to contact the wall in many crashes, and could very possibly be torn off the car and fly into the stands. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen… but it is definitely a concern.

Cami Starr, Senior Writer: I think the CoT will debut on time at Bristol. NASCAR has put too much time and effort into it to budge on the issue. Some of the teams are starting to come around to it, and more cars are making it past inspection. This whole process is similar to what happened with the Chase; in the beginning, people didn’t like it and wanted it gone, but NASCAR wasn’t going to back down. I don’t think they will on this, either. There’s no way they’ll admit this was a bad plan considering all the bucks they have spent on this to begin with.

Beth Lunkenheimer, Contributor: As much as I, along with most NASCAR fans and teams, don’t want to see it, I have a feeling the CoT will debut as planned at Bristol. Everything NASCAR has said about it has been in an attempt to make us like it. They say it’ll help the smaller team, and they say it’ll make for more exciting racing because every driver will have the same aero package. Well, looking back on 2007, people won’t have anything but criticism for the CoT; instead of creating more exciting racing, it will have turned a race that was already a snoozer into more of one.

Vito Pugliese, Contributor: Yes, the CoT will make it to Bristol. One of Bristol’s attributes we are always reminded of is that aerodynamics are not vital here; chassis setup is. Being able to keep down in the lower groove and getting the car to dig coming up off the corner onto the straights is the key to winning at Bristol. Why do I bring that up? This means that the tolerances of the CoT won’t need to be nearly as stringent as they are at a place like Atlanta. The next CoT race at Martinsville shouldn’t be much different. It’s a slower track and the cars typically sustain even more damage than at Bristol, so getting the cars onto the track probably won’t be as big of an issue as getting the front splitters and rear wings to remain intact. That should enable everything to be completed and pass inspection in plenty of time for the races.

Meegan Sweeney, Contributor: I think the CoT will be delayed, because a lot of the teams, especially the new ones, have had a hard time simply putting the things together. When looking back on 2007, I’d say that fans and whomever will think it was a choppy start because of that, wondering why they ever started all these changes to begin with.

Tommy Thompson, Contributor: The Bristol debut of the CoT is set in stone. I don’t really see any reason, at this point for NASCAR not to follow through with their announced plans. Testing of the CoT has become “hot and heavy” by the teams the last few weeks, and the feedback from the teams on the racecar is, for the most part promising. Any “11th hour” change in the present phase-in schedule of the CoT would open NASCAR up to unwanted negative PR, all things which NASCAR will avoid.

The end of season story on the CoT will be just how much it skewed the championship race. NASCAR will likely find that it was ill-advised to introduce the drastically different racecar intermittently throughout the schedule before its “bugs” could be identified and corrected. Especially impacting the point standings by year’s end will be the five CoT races during the 10-race Chase to the Nextel Cup Championship, all held on tracks that the cars have never before been tested at in race conditions.

What do you, our loyal readers, think about the future of the CoT? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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