NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thompson in Turn 5: Giving NASCAR Credit Where Credit is Due

As we’ve all seen over the past month, criticizing NASCAR for their infinite number of blunders and incidents of poor judgment is really not that difficult; but it’s not exactly fun to do, either. Believe me, it’s not my intention to relentlessly harp on the organization; as it is, by Wednesdays I usually find myself standing at the back of a long line of writers that have already beat the proverbial “dog” of controversial topics to death. Thankfully, the sanctioning body has done something right for once involving one such controversy this week, so much so that I can actually partake in a far better exercise; sending compliments NASCAR’s way.

Yes, the sport should be given credit where credit is due; three cheers, in fact, for what appears to be a decision to reevaluate their flawed Car of Tomorrow (CoT) introduction schedule. Originally, NASCAR’s plan was to call for 16 CoT races in 2007, 26 in 2008 and then a full introduction at the start of the 2009 season. It’s a schedule that made no sense to me, one that assured to cause considerable unnecessary consternation to both fans of the sport and the crews maintaining Nextel Cup cars. Basically, NASCAR was telling the crews and their organizations they had to maintain a fleet of two entirely different racecars for over two full seasons, an unnecessary and exorbitant waste of time, money and resources to say the least.

In my January 31, 2007, article titled, “A Season of Inconsistency and Frustration,” I strongly recommended that NASCAR abandon their ill-advised schedule. This past week, apparently after closely scrutinizing my column (one can dream), NASCAR is strongly hinting that, alas, I may be right. Well, kind of right anyways.

In that article, I wrote the following:

“The rationale behind the two-year phase-in of the radically different racecar has been lost on me. Had teams been notified early on during the developmental stage of the CoT that the debut of the racecar would be at the start of 2009 and that the present cars would, at that time, become obsolete, it seems that teams would have had ample time to adjust their inventory of racecars accordingly. As things stand now, shops will be attempting to produce both the present-day cars for 20 points races this season, as well as another 10 in 2008. Teams making earnest efforts to win races are going to be hard-pressed to not only put top-notch racecars of today on the track week in and week out, but also the racecars of tomorrow. As it stands now, the demands put on teams to divide their efforts between two different projects will tax even the most able of teams, resulting in teams with limited resources having to decide in which cars they will expend the greatest amount of their energies towards over the next two years.”

On March 1st, Nextel Cup director John Darby officially relented. Responding to a question about the sport’s future, he exclaimed, “Whether we would expand the CoT schedule for 2007 is probably not likely. But could we be all in for 2008? I think that is very possible.” The pronouncement came on the first of two days of CoT testing at Bristol, Tenn., where the car is slated for its race debut at the popular half-mile track on March 25th.

“From a driver’s perspective, once you get in the car it’s just a car,” the always introspective veteran driver Jeff Burton said, inadvertently supporting Darby’s earlier diatribe. “In my world, it’s no longer about the Car of Tomorrow. It’s just about a car… trying to do it better than everybody else. The Car of Tomorrow is here today.”

See also
2007 Frontstretch Season Preview: Car of Tomorrow

Burton’s positive outlook towards the newly-designed racecar was representative of most throughout the garage area during the test sessions last week. It was apparent that teams were not having to overcome any major design difficulties at this point, occupied with only fine tuning the next generation of stock car.

This fact apparently has encouraged NASCAR to accelerate the implementation process of the CoT. Darby, in addition, stated, “It’s a pain in the butt for the teams to run two parallel programs with two different racecars. It’s a pain for us to manipulate and work and apply two different rulebooks, two different inspection procedures. A lot of what’s happening is it’s settling in to all the competitors that this is the future, this is the car. Why are we going to wait three years? I don’t think we will.”

OK, so it’s not exactly the plan of ultimate quickness I had originally proposed. But it’s a good compromise. Instead of tainting two seasons of racing with the convoluted introduction schedule of the CoT, the damage will at least be limited to just one… this season. Although it still seems preferable to me not to have any season skewed by the use of two different racecars, you have to take what you can get. In reality, asking for that much acceleration is equivalent to me just splitting hairs; this change of direction by NASCAR is clearly for the better. And I never foresaw the redesigned racecar being as close to race ready as it apparently is; to be honest, the teams probably didn’t see it coming, either. Considering all that, it doesn’t seem necessary to delay the CoT’s first full season of competition until 2009.

Now, if only NASCAR would reassess some of their other questionable decisions and policies. But that’s another story for another day… for once, it’s time to let NASCAR rest on its laurels.

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