HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

April 9, 2007

After two runs, little is known about the COT

By Jesse Menden

The biggest change for NASCAR in almost 20 years came and went, and just like the month it debuted in, the car came in like a lion, and went out like a lamb.

There was a big build-up to the new Car of Tomorrow and its first appearance at Bristol March 25, and its subsequent appearance last week at Martinsville, but quite honestly, it was disappointing.

No major drama unfolded due to the car. Drivers didn’t suddenly lose control, the cars didn’t spontaneously combust (although almost), and the drivers who usually win races, did.

After just two runs with the car, we have actually learned very little about the potential success or failure of the car. The two short tracks didn’t tell us much, but it did give us a few glimpses.

The Car of Tomorrow does favor multi-car teams. One of those teams, owned by Rick Hendrick, has seen one of his cars win the past four races, two with old car, two with the new. Kyle Busch won at Bristol in the COT debut, and Jimmie Johnson won last week at Martinsville.

It appears that the amount of capital the bigger teams can dump into research and development in the Car of Tomorrow does make a difference, which was the exact opposite of what NASCAR wanted to see. NASCAR was hoping to make the car cheaper to build and maintain, which would let the smaller teams use more money on the intangibles, but it has not turned out that way so far.

Single-car teams, like Robby Gordon, have struggled with the new car. Gordon, an owner/driver, had nothing but trouble at Martinsville last week and finished 34th.

That is not good news for Toyota either. The COT has compounded their problems. Do you remember Michael Waltrip? He didn’t qualify in either of the half-mile races.

Another thing we have learned about the COT is that it is a little fragile.

Seemingly ordinary wrecks have turned some of the cars into unidentifiable objects. The back of the cars crumple easily, and parts spray everywhere when they are hit.

One piece of good news on this topic is the front spoilers survived the banging and bumping of the smallest tracks in the NASCAR circuit. There was concern heading in that the spoilers would shatter or the metal rods holding the spoiler in place would give way under contact, but so far, so good.

Another thing we have learned about the Car of Tomorrow is it is very much a work-in-progress.

Wednesday, NASCAR announced it was changing the foam in the right door to a protective heat shield because the foam was melting, and could even start on fire if it became hot enough. Several cars at Bristol, and again at Martinsville, had a problem with the exhaust pipe heating up that foam.

NASCAR will also be lenient on the post race inspections. They started the season in aggressive fashion, suspending crew chiefs and handing out point deductions for those who cheated. (Speaking of Waltrip, he still has negative points on the season.)

Following Greg Biffle’s best finish of the year at Bristol, his COT was found to be too low, and could have been penalized. But NASCAR decided it was unintentional, and would give the teams a little slack on the car, at least initially.

And finally, we have learned that the drivers won’t stop complaining about the COT. It is getting hard to listen to post-race interviews.

Even after his win at Bristol, Kyle Busch ripped the COT moments after crossing the finish line.

He called the car “terrible” and was hoping to win the race so he could say how bad it was. (You are supposedly the best drivers in North America; shut up and drive.)

Beyond the things mentioned, we know very little about the car. But we are about to get a crash course on it when the COT makes its next appearance Saturday, April 21 in Phoenix.

There, fans will see how the car handles when it is going 180 miles per hour. Only then, can we judge how the car handles in traffic, and how easily it can pass others.