Racing Beat

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.

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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.

Pardon Ricky Rudd if he dismisses that thought. Thirty years after earning Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR Cup competition, the 50-year-old Virginia native is getting a do-over. Rudd decided to come out of retirement for the 2007 season and promptly grabbed the outside pole for the season-opening Daytona 500.

“It’s good to be back,” Rudd says. “I had a nice vacation and kind of refreshed a little bit. And the burnout factor was setting in too much, so I took a year off and just sort of cleared my head and figured out what I wanted to do.

“The risk that I knew I was taking was if I decided I might want to come back, there might not be an opportunity for me because the seats would have been filled. As it turned out it worked out good that Robert Yates was looking for someone to fill the seat in the 88 (Ford) and the Mars candy company Snickers was good enough to step up and sponsor the car.”

Rudd made his Cup debut in 1975, but his first full season was in 1977, a year that saw him named the series’ top rookie. From that point on he became a model of consistency, winning at least one race per season from 1983 to 1998.

His last victory came in 2002 at the road course in Infineon, Calif., and overall Rudd had registered 23 career victories and 29 poles.

Still, Rudd insists that when he retired he was fully committed to walking away from the sport – until a new race season began.

“I don’t think the itch to race ever really left,” he says. “I tried to keep it in check and tried not to watch too many broadcasts, tried not to listen to it on the radio.”

Although few expect Rudd to be a factor in the Chase for the Nextel Cup (his best-ever series finish was second in 1991), the man who holds the record for second Cup starts with 788 vows to make the most of his second chance.

“Since I was a kid, this is all I wanted to do,” Rudd says. “Robert [Yates] is bound and determined to try to build this thing back up to where it was, and he’s there every morning opening the doors of the shop.

“I’m not going to fix it by myself, obviously, but I’m excited about the challenge and being back.”

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