Racing Beat

| May 01, 2007

Kyle Busch wins the first race in the Car of Tomorrow at the Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Safe Choice
The Car of Tomorrow is the future of NASCAR, but for stock car competitors there is no time like the present to work out the kinks in the prototype vehicle.

With the COT’s debut at Bristol Motor Speedway in March and the vehicle possibly entering Cup competition full-time as early as next season, tests of the car have increased, meaning teams have been forced to split duties between their traditional rides and the one all will be using no later than 2009.

Jeff Burton, who won second place in the Food City 500 at Bristol, sees plusses and minuses to the COT.

“I like the fact that it’s a safer vehicle. I like the fact there’s more room for the driver. There are a lot of things about that that I really like,” Burton says. “[But] I’m a guy that wants to try to have better engineering and better science and be able to find a way to do it better than the next guy. It’s in NASCAR’s best interest to not have that. I can’t argue with that.”

Burton does argue that a common template will take some of the team innovation out of NASCAR.

“At the end of the day, it’s [NASCAR's] job to provide good quality racing for the fans. It’s our job to make the race boring,” he says. “I think long-term we’re taking away the opportunity for me and my team to do it a whole lot better than somebody else. It’s less opportunity to make the race boring.”

Safety features on the new car include a double-frame rail on the driver’s side with steel plating covering the door bars, energy-absorbing materials installed between the roll cage door bars and door panels, and an enlarged cockpit with the driver closer to the center of the car.

The roof of the vehicle is 2 1/2 inches higher than current series cars. The COT also has two aerodynamic pieces that teams can adjust at the track – the rear wing and front splitter. The rear wing provides better balance and control in traffic and replaces the rear spoiler. It reduces turbulent air behind the car (which results in vehicles “getting loose”), and it adjusts between 0 and 16 degrees, allowing teams to manipulate rear downforce.

The front splitter can be adjusted from 4 to 6 inches to aid downforce and aero balance. With these options, along with a more streamlined body and chassis inspection process, teams will not need to build track-specific racecars, making the COT more cost-effective for the teams.

The 2007 Car of Tomorrow models are the Chevrolet Impala SS, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry and actually more closely resemble production cars than the current vehicles do.

“I don’t think the fans will be able to see a difference,” defending Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says. “I think everybody is comfortable with the cars on the road courses and short tracks. It’s getting to the bigger tracks where we need to work on the aero balance of this car, learn how to adjust this racecar, because it’s an entirely different animal than what we’ve had in the past.”

While few pilots have given the COT a ringing endorsement, Kurt Busch is sold on the concept of making the car safer and more cost-effective for the teams.

Plus, Busch says, “these cars are bigger and boxier and made to create a bigger hole in the air to allow side-by-side racing or nose-to-tail racing, similar to what we see in the Truck Series, except it’s 43 cars. So the car all around has a positive influence on our sport, and I believe the fans will observe it over time.”

Return Of Ricky
At 50, Ricky Rudd comes out of retirement for another NASCAR season

There are very few second acts in American life – or at least that’s how the old saying goes.

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